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Pakistan’s top court on Tuesday upheld its acquittal of a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy, paving the way for Aasia Bibi to leave the country in a blow to radical Islamists who had demanded her execution.

Following the landmark decision, Bibi will finally be able to join her daughters, who earlier fled to Canada where they have been given asylum.

Bibi’s lawyer, Saiful Malook, who returned to Islamabad after fleeing the country amid death threats, called the decision a victory for Pakistan’s constitution and rule of law.

The three-judge Supreme Court panel had “insisted on very strict proofs of blasphemy” and found none, Malook said, expressing hope that Bibi’s acquittal will deter false blasphemy allegations in the future.

Pakistan’s blasphemy law is often used to settle scores or intimidate followers of minority religions, including Shiite Muslims. A charge of insulting Islam can bring the death penalty, and the mere accusation of blasphemy is sometimes enough to whip up vengeful mobs, even if courts acquit defendants. A provincial governor who defended Bibi was shot and killed, as was a government minority minister who dared question the blasphemy law.

From her secret location, Bibi watched the decision reported live on local television, according to a friend who spoke to her as it was being announced. Bibi’s first thoughts were for her daughters, the friend said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he fears reprisals from Islamic extremists.


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