SC to rule on review petition against Asia Bibi acquittal today

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court of Pakistan will decide today whether to allow an appeal against its decision to acquit Asia Bibi, a peasant Christian woman enmeshed in a years-long blasphemy row.

A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and comprising Justice Qazi Faez Isa and Justice Mazhar Alam Miankhel will hear a review petition filed against the top court’s verdict acquitting Asia Bibi of blasphemy charges and setting her free.

Complainant Qari Muhammad Saalam had filed a review petition in the Supreme Court Lahore registry through his counsel Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry, after the apex court acquitted Asia Bibi, who had been on death row since she was convicted on blasphemy charges in 2010.

The petitioner had argued that Bibi confessed to her crimes during investigation, and that a delay in lodging the First Information Request does not imply that the defendant is not guilty of the crime.

The petitioner had also sought to put her name on the Exit Control List till a final decision on the review petition was made.

On Tuesday, “the court will determine if our appeal against her acquittal is admitted,” said Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry, the lawyer who filed the petition on behalf of the complainant.

Petition reviews are usually settled on the same day they are heard by the court. Experts say it would be highly unusual for the court to allow an appeal against its own ruling.

Asia Bibi’s conviction was overturned by Pakistan’s highest court on October 31 in a landmark decision, but she had remained in prison as the government negotiated with protesters from religious groups — led by the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) — who blockaded major cities and demanded her immediate execution.

On November 2, the government had agreed in a deal with the protesters to follow due process to impose a travel ban on Bibi, and not to challenge the review appeal in the Supreme Court.