Pak­istani woman at cen­tre of blas­phemy row leaves jail

The Phnom Penh Post - - WORLD -

APAK­ISTANI Chris­tian woman who spent eight years on death row for blas­phemy has been freed from jail af­ter an ac­quit­tal that trig­gered Is­lamist protests, but is still in Pak­istan, of­fi­cials said on Thurs­day amid ap­peals for her to be of­fered asy­lum.

Asia Bibi’s con­vic­tion was over­turned by the coun­try’s high­est court last Wed­nes­day, but she re­mained in prison as the govern­ment ne­go­ti­ated with hard­lin­ers who block­aded ma­jor cities and de­manded her im­me­di­ate ex­e­cu­tion.

Is­lamist par­ties had al­ready vowed to take to the streets of Karachi later Thurs­day to protest her ac­quit­tal and num­bers were now ex­pected to swell sharply fol­low­ing news of her re­lease.

“She has been freed,” lawyer Saif-ulMu­look said. “I have been told that she is on a plane but no­body knows where she will land.”

Fol­low­ing protests at last week’s rul­ing, the govern­ment agreed in a deal with Is­lamists to im­pose a travel ban on Bibi, and not to chal­lenge an ap­peal in the Supreme Court.

For­eign min­istry spokesman Muham­mad Faisal on Thurs­day de­nied me­dia re­ports that she had left the coun­try. “She is in Pak­istan”, he said.

In­tel­li­gence sources also told me­dia that she had not left the coun­try.

An or­der for her re­lease ar­rived on Wed­nes­day at the jail in the cen­tral city of Mul­tan where she was held, said a prison of­fi­cial.

“Asia Bibi has left the prison and has been trans­ferred to a safe place!” tweeted An­to­nio Ta­jani, pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment.

An­other civil avi­a­tion of­fi­cial, in Mul­tan, said a small plane ar­rived in the city with “a few for­eign­ers and some Pak­ista­nis” on board to fetch Bibi.

Her case has un­der­scored deep di­vi­sions be­tween tra­di­tion­al­ists and mod­ernisers in the de­voutly Mus­lim coun­try.

The con­vic­tion stemmed from a 2009 in­ci­dent when Bibi was asked to fetch wa­ter while out work­ing in the fields.

Mus­lim women labour­ers ob­jected to her touch­ing the wa­ter bowl as a non-Mus­lim, and a fight re­port­edly erupted.

A lo­cal imam then claimed Bibi in­sulted the Prophet Mo­hammed.

Bibi has con­sis­tently de­nied the charges, and her pros­e­cu­tion ral­lied in­ter­na­tional rights groups, politi­cians and re­li­gious fig­ures.

Pope Bene­dict XVI called for her re­lease in 2010, while his suc­ces­sor, Pope Fran­cis, met her daugh­ter in 2015.

In­cen­di­ary charge

Bibi’s hus­band Ashiq Masih has ap­pealed for Bri­tain or the US to grant the fam­ily asy­lum and sev­eral gov­ern­ments in­clud­ing those of Italy and France have of­fered to help.

Her lawyer fled to the Nether­lands on Satur­day un­der threat to his life.

Italy’s In­te­rior Min­is­ter Mat­teo Salvini tweeted: “I will do ev­ery­thing hu­manly pos­si­ble to guar­an­tee this young woman’s fu­ture.”

Blas­phemy is an in­cen­di­ary charge in Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity Pak­istan, where even un­sub­stan­ti­ated al­le­ga­tions of in­sult­ing Is­lam can re­sult in death at the hands of mobs.

Mere calls to re­form the law have pro­voked vi­o­lence, most no­tably the as­sas­si­na­tion of Sal­maan Taseer, the gover­nor of Pak­istan’s Pun­jab prov­ince, by his own body­guard in Is­lam­abad in 2011.

Taseer had called for Bibi’s re­lease, and his son Shah­baz tweeted “Pak­istan Zind­abad” (“Long live Pak­istan”) fol­low­ing last week’s rul­ing.

Thou­sands of Is­lamist hard­lin­ers poured onto the streets in protest af­ter Supreme Court judges over­turned Bibi’s con­vic­tion last Wed­nes­day.

Demon­stra­tions broke out in ma­jor cities across the coun­try in the wake of the rul­ing, with club-wield­ing pro­test­ers block­ing Is­lam­abad’s main high­way and bar­ri­cad­ing roads in Karachi and La­hore.

One of the most vo­cal groups in the protests – the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pak­istan ( TLP) – called for “mutiny” against the army’s top brass and the as­sas­si­na­tion of the top court’s jus­tices.

In a state­ment, the TLP termed Bibi’s re­lease “against the govern­ment agree­ment”.

“The en­tire at­mos­phere of Pak­istan is in pain and grief af­ter hear­ing the news about the blas­phe­mer of the holy prophet Asia,” it said.


Asia Bibi, a Pak­istani Chris­tian woman who spent eight years on death row for blas­phemy, has been freed from jail, her lawyer said on Thurs­day.

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