Asia Bibi
People hold signs reading 'Free Asia Bibi' as they demonstrate on the Parvis des droits de l'homme in ParisMARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images

Bringing a huge sigh of relief to Asia Bibi, the Pakistan Supreme Court on Tuesday, January 29, upheld her acquittal and refused to review a challenge to October's ruling that was submitted by an extreme Islamist party.

The Christian woman was on death row on charges of blasphemy since 2010. She was convicted for allegedly tarnishing the name of the Prophet Muhammed during an argument with a few Muslim colleagues.

While it was believed that the mother of four would end up becoming the first woman to be hanged in the country, the SC acquitted Bibi reversing the decision of the lower court. And now the SC has upheld the October ruling with Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa saying thus: "Based on merit, this petition is dismissed."

Bibi is now set to leave Pakistan and join her family, which is presently in Canada. She is likely to seek asylum in the country. For now, she is in custody of authorities at a secret location in Islamabad.

I am really grateful to everybody, now after nine years it is confirmed that I am free and I will be going to hug my daughters," a friend quoted Bibi as saying, according to the Associated Press.

What Is The Asia Bibi Case?

Bibi was said to have been harvesting fruit in Sheikhupura, near Lahore, in 2009, when she had an argument with a group of women over a bucket of water. The women had said that they could not drink from a cup that Bibi had used as she was from a different faith and had made it impure.

An argument had broken out in the group and the women had said that Bibi should convert to Islam. However, she had reportedly made offensive comments on the religion and the prophet. Bibi was then beaten up at her home, during which she confessed to blasphemy, her accusers had said. She was then arrested and investigated, but Bibi maintained that she may have got irate during the argument and said some "hot words," but never made any blasphemous statement.

Support for Asia Bibi

After Bibi was acquitted in October, David Curry, CEO of Open Doors USA, an organisation that works for the well-being of Christian minorities, said that the verdict has brought a "sigh of relief."

"These charges stemmed from her Christian identity as well as false accusations against her," CNN quoted Curry as saying. "We are hopeful that Pakistan will now take additional steps to offer religious freedom and basic human rights throughout the country."

Regional governor Salman Taseer had also appealed for leniency for her, but he was murdered in Islamabad by his own bodyguard.

While Bibi may not have received much support in Pakistan, several people abroad have spoken in her favour, and many foreign cities also saw people rallying for her. Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) also held prayers for Bibi in the UK.

Daughters of Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi
The daughters of Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi pose with an image of their mother outside their residence in Sheikhupura located in Pakistan's Punjab ProvinceReuters

"We have prayed 10 years now for our sister, Asia, and I am confident that our prayers will be heard, and the judgment will go in favor of Asia, her family and the entire Pakistani Christian community," Father Emmanuel Yousaf said in a statement.

In 2018, Tony Abbott had also announced that Bibi would be welcome to seek asylum in Australia.

Violence in light of Bibi's acquittal

While Bibi can now hope for some peace and stability, her case has been a hot topic of debate in the country over the years and her acquittal in October caused law and order issues in the nation. Hardline religious clerics often spoke against Bibi and asked their supporters to take to the streets to protest against the ruling.

In tune, several schools nationwide remained closed and major highways in Islamabad and Lahore were known to have been blocked by angry mobs.