ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A Christian woman who has been in hiding since Pakistan’s Supreme Court overturned her blasphemy conviction last year, leading to violent protests and death threats, is apparently free to leave the country, after the court on Tuesday dismissed a challenge to its earlier ruling.
The woman, Asia Bibi, a farmworker with five children, spent eight years on death row after being convicted in 2010 of blaspheming Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. She denied the accusations, which she said were made after she had an argument with Muslim co-workers.
Ms. Bibi was released from prison after the Supreme Court acquitted her in October. But hard-line Islamists, who led large protests in the days after her acquittal, called for her execution, and she has remained in hiding. She has sought asylum overseas, but the government said she could not leave Pakistan until the high court had heard a petition calling for a review of her acquittal.
On Tuesday, a three-member Supreme Court panel led by Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa dismissed that petition.
Islamabad, the capital, had been put on high alert ahead of the court ruling on Tuesday in case protests erupted again.
“After nine years behind bars for a crime she didn’t commit, it is difficult to see this long-overdue verdict as justice,” a South Asia campaigner for Amnesty International, Rimmel Mohydin, said in a statement. “But she should now be free to reunite with her family and seek safety in a country of her choice.”
Ms. Bibi’s case has drawn worldwide attention to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which critics say have often been used to persecute religious minorities. Blasphemy is a highly combustible issue in Pakistan, where mere allegations can set off violence and mass riots. A number of religious parties have seized on such cases to build support and flex their political muscles.
Ms. Bibi’s case was a factor in the 2011 assassination of Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab Province, who had campaigned for her release and for changes in the blasphemy laws. He was shot and killed by a police officer in his own security detail, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri. Mr. Qadri, who was hanged in 2016, has since become a figure of religious devotion, with frequent visitors to his shrine on the outskirts of Islamabad.