Asia Bibi, the Christian woman whose acquittal was upheld this week in a blasphemy saga which has made her a prime target for vigilantes, is still in Pakistan, the foreign ministry said yesterday.
As Islamist extremists announced fresh protests demanding her execution, officials said she was free to go abroad, with speculation rampant that she will seek asylum in Europe or North America.
Bibi, a labourer from central Punjab province, was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 and was on death row until her acquittal last year.
Her case swiftly became the most infamous in Pakistan, drawing worldwide attention to religious extremism in the country where blasphemy is an incendiary issue.
Since her acquittal she has been in protective custody, with authorities refusing to reveal her whereabouts out of fear for her safety.
On Tuesday the Supreme Court cleared the final legal hurdle in her case, throwing out a petition seeking an appeal against her acquittal.
The decision spurred calls for protests from extremists who have demanded Bibi's hanging, and set the stage for her to leave the country. Her daughters are believed to have already fled to Canada.
"To the best of my knowledge, Asia Bibi is still in Pakistan," foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal told reporters in Islamabad during a weekly press briefing.