In a major development that paves the way for Asia Bibi to leave the country, Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a review petition challenging its decision to acquit the Christian woman who was sentenced to death over blasphemy charges.

Amid tight security in Islamabad, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa rejected the plea against Bibi’s 31 October acquittal.

Reprimanding the petitioners for questioning the earlier verdict, Justice Khosa told the lawyer of petitioner, cleric Qari Mohammed Salam, “Based on merit, this review petition is dismissed…You could not point out (even) a single mistake in the Supreme Court’s verdict.”

Salam’s lawyer Ghulam Ikram presented his arguments before the bench, which also comprised Justice Qazi Faez Isa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel, demanding a larger bench for the review petition. He also demanded that bench should include Islamic scholars and Ulema.

To that, the CJP remarked, “How is this a matter of religion? Has the verdict not been given on merit? The verdict was given on the basis of testimonies; does Islam say that one should be punished even if they are found not guilty?”

Clearly telling the lawyer not to tarnish Islam and the image of Pakistan, Dawn reported that the justice told the cleric’s lawyer that he could not establish any errors in the verdict absolving Bibi.

“The beauty of a Muslim community is that non-Muslims are taken care of,” said the CJP, addressing the lawyer.

“Islam says that the person testifying should be truthful, even if speaking the truth means implicating your loved ones. If we have not read the testimony correctly, we will rectify it immediately,” said the chief justice.

Slamming the hardliners who protested against the Bibi’s acquittal for three days across Pakistan, the CJP said, “There is a clear difference between the testimonies of all the witnesses, and yet you block all of Pakistan questioning why you did not get your way.”

Islamist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) was behind the protests, violent in some places, which brought Pakistan to a standstill.

At the time, the government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan reached an agreement with the TLP that allowed them to appeal for Bibi’s ban from leaving the country. But TLP leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi, along with 3,000 of his followers, was arrested at the end of November last year.

Bibi’s lawyer Saiful Malook, who returned to Pakistan during the weekend after a three-month exile in Europe due to fear of extremists, was seen celebrating the decision before television cameras in front of the court.

“Asia Bibi is a free woman now and she will live in a beautiful country,” said Malook, without revealing her destination.

Two of Bibi’s daughters have been moved to Canada, where the Christian woman is likely to head following today’s verdict.

Bibi, a mother of five, spent eight years on death row in a prison in Multan before she was acquitted last year. She was accused of insulting Prophet Muhammad in June 2009 and a court sentenced her to death in 2010. She lost an appeal before the Lahore High Court four years later.

The allegations against Asia Bibi were made when she was labouring in a field and a row broke out with some Muslim women she was working with. She was asked to fetch water, but the Muslim women objected saying that as a non-Muslim she was unfit to touch the water bowl. The women then went to a local cleric and put forward the blasphemy allegations.

Last year, the apex court overturned her death sentence sparking unrest. Bibi was released from Multan prison on 7 November and flown to Islamabad onboard a special aircraft.

She was then taken to an undisclosed place amid tight security.

Hearing the case today, the CJP said, “We will not hear the case again. We are hearing [the petition] for the satisfaction of those who gave fatwas [on the verdict] without reading it.”

But the Islamists had on Monday night threatened another round of protests if Bibi was given “judicial relief” warning that Pakistan could “go up in flames” if the court took the “wrong decision”.

There was a heavy presence of security force personnel around the Supreme Court today in anticipation of the threats. Over 1,000 police officials and 300 paramilitary Rangers threw a cordon of security in the vicinity of the top court.