Blas­phemy lawyer ‘had to leave’

The Phnom Penh Post - - WORLD -

THE Pak­istani lawyer who saved a Chris­tian woman con­victed of blas­phemy from death row said on Mon­day that the UN and EU made him leave the coun­try “against my wishes” be­cause he was a “prime tar­get.”

Saif-ul-Mal­ook, who has fled to the Nether­lands, said he con­tacted a UN of­fi­cial in Islamabad af­ter Is­lamist vi­o­lence erupted fol­low­ing the Pak­istani Supreme Court’s ac­quit­tal of Asia Bibi on Wed­nes­day.

“And then [the UN] and the EU am­bas­sadors in Islamabad, they kept me for three days and then put me on a plane against my wishes,” the lawyer told a press con­fer­ence in The Hague.

“I pressed them that I would not leave the coun­try un­less I get Asia out of the prison . . . I am not happy to be here with­out her, but every­body said that you are the prime tar­get at the mo­ment and the whole world is tak­ing care of Asia Bibi.

“They were of the view that I was the prime tar­get to be killed, and that my life was in im­mi­nent dan­ger. For three days they did not let me open the door, one day I called the French am­bas­sador and said I do not want to be here.”

The lawyer had pre­vi­ously said be­fore his de­par­ture on Satur­day that he was leav­ing be­cause “in the cur­rent sce­nario, it’s not pos­si­ble for me to live in Pak­istan”.

Mal­ook ar­rived in The Hague at t he week­end af­ter a short stopover in Rome, with the help of the HVC Foun­da­tion, a Dutch group that fo­cuses on the hu­man rights of Chris­tian mi­nori­ties.

Asia Bibi spent nearly a decade on death row af­ter be­ing ac­cused of blas­phemy fol­low­ing a dis­pute with fel­low villagers over drink­ing from the same bowl of water. The charge is an in­flam­ma­tory one in Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity Pak­istan.

‘Face-sav­ing ex­er­cise’

But she re­mains in Pak­istan af­ter Prime Min­is­ter Im­ran Khan struck a deal wit h t he Is­lamist hard­lin­ers be­hind the protests to bar her from leav ing un­til a fi­nal court ap­peal is heard.

Former cricket leg­end Khan has faced ac­cu­sa­tions of a ca­pit­u­la­tion to ul­tra-con­ser­va­tive Is­lamists who called for the as­sas­si­na­tion of the coun­try’s Supreme Court jus­tices and a mutiny against the army’s top brass in the rul­ing’s wake.

Khan’s first wife, Bri­tish ac­tivist and film­maker Jemima Khan, joined the cho­rus chid­ing the premier for back­ing down, say­ing his ad­min­is­tra­tion had ef­fec­tively signed Bibi’s “death war­rant”.

Mal­ook dis­missed the deal as a “face-sav­ing” ex­er­cise for the hard­lin­ers from the Tehreek-e-Labaik party and in­sisted that Asia Bibi would “100 per cent” be freed soon.

“This com­pro­mise is noth­ing but a piece of pa­per that can be thrown in the dust­bin,” he said.

“The gov­ern­ment can­not en­ter into any such agree­ment with any­body.”

It was not clear whether Bibi had had any firm of­fers of asy­lum if she does leave Pak­istan, added the lawyer, who said he was “legally au­tho­rised” to choose a coun­try for her.

Her hus­band has pleaded for in­ter­na­tional help to leave the coun­try.

Paris mayor of­fer

The lawyer said a UN of­fi­cial in Pak­istan told him “we are tak­ing care of her” but that “when I said which coun­try, they said we can’t say.

“I asked the French am­bas­sador ‘would your coun­try be will­ing to of­fer asy­lum to Asia Bibi. He said if you re­quest us legally, I said ‘OK I re­quest her’.”

Ital­ian au­thor­i­ties had mean­while apol­o­gised to him af­ter he was held for sev­eral hours at Rome air­port, Mal­ook said.

The mayor of Paris on Mon­day said she was “ready to wel­come” Asia Bibi to Paris and urged the French gov­ern­ment to in­ter­vene with Islamabad.

“France has a duty to help her and her fam­ily by in­ter­ven­ing with the Pak­istani gov­ern­ment so that she is al­lowed to gain asy­lum in an­other coun­try where she will be safe and com­pletely free to prac­tise her re­li­gion,” said Mayor Anne Hi­dalgo.

The EU gave no ini­tial re­sponse to the lawyer’s com­ments, but ear­lier called on Pak­istan to “take the nec­es­sary mea­sures to en­sure the safety of any Pak­istani ci­ti­zen, in­clud­ing of course Ms Bibi,” Euro­pean Com­mis­sion spokesman Car­los Martin Ruiz De Gorde­juela told a daily brief­ing.

There was no im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion from the UN.

JOHN THYS/AFP

Pak­istani lawyer Saif-ul-Mu­look (cen­tre), who saved a Chris­tian woman con­victed of blas­phemy, ar­rives with a po­lice es­cort to give a press con­fer­ence in The Hague on Mon­day af­ter flee­ing Pak­istan ear­lier in the week.

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