ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan's Supreme Court rejected Tuesday (January 29) a challenge to its decision to acquit Asia Bibi of blasphemy, igniting calls for the Christian mother to finally be allowed to leave the country where she still faces threats to her life.
The ruling by the country's highest court paves the way for Bibi -- whose whereabouts the government refuses to reveal for fear she will be targeted by vigilantes -- to seek asylum abroad.
"Based on merit, this review petition is dismissed," Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa told a hearing at Pakistan's highest court, which overturned Bibi's death sentence for blasphemy last October.
Moments after the ruling was announced, Bibi's lawyer, Saif-ul-Mulook, hinted that his client's move could be imminent.
Extremists "said they would kill her despite the judgment of the Supreme Court," he told reporters outside the court. "Therefore, I think she should leave the country."
"Parliament should now review blasphemy law, and Islamic scholars should also think about it," he said.
Other observers backed the court's decision.
"The review petition was dismissed on its merits and according to the facts available to court," Amanat Gishkori, an Islamabad-based Supreme Court reporter, told Pakistan Forward.
"There were a lot of differences in the statements of the witnesses, which led to the original decision, and the same was the basis of the rejection of the review petition," he said.
Lahore-based lawyer Raja Shoaib said the Supreme Court's decision was expected.
"It was evident that the Supreme Court would reject the review petition as it had no substance to overthrow the previous judgment," he told Pakistan Forward.
Bibi was sentenced to death in 2010 in what swiftly became Pakistan's most infamous blasphemy case.
The Supreme Court overturned her conviction last year, sparking days of violent demonstrations with enraged extremists calling for her beheading.
Authorities struck a deal to end the violence. The agreement included allowing the petition seeking an appeal of the Supreme Court's judgment.
Earlier Tuesday the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party, which led violent protests demanding Bibi's execution after her acquittal, called for its members to be ready for action in a message sent to journalists.
But most of its leaders remain in detention after a government crackdown, and few protesters could be seen at the court in Islamabad, where security appeared normal.
"She deserves to be murdered according to Sharia," Hafiz Ehtisham Ahmed, an Islamist activist linked to the extremist Red Mosque in Islamabad, told AFP.
Bibi will not be safe even if she leaves the country, he warned. "If she goes abroad, don't Muslims live there? If she goes out of Pakistan... anybody can kill her there."
Chief Justice Khosa -- considered the country's top specialist on criminal law, and who helped draft the original acquittal -- expressed frustration at the furious reaction by an extremist minority.
"When you meet the demands of justice, death decrees are issued against you," he told the court. "Is this the face of Islam that we want to show to the world?"
[Abdul Nasir Khan in Lahore contributed to this report.]