Pakistan roiled by release of accused blasphemer
The release from prison of a Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy against Islam, and unconfirmed reports that she was then secretly airlifted abroad, are roiling Pakistani Muslims and intensifying fears in the country’s minority Christian community.
The government confirmed the release of Asia
Bibi, whose acquittal by the Pakistani Supreme Court last week sparked violent protests and death threats against authorities. But officials denied Pakistani media reports that she was then secretly flown out of the country.
Pakistani news media reported widely that Bibi, whose lawyer fled the country earlier this week, was covertly freed from prison in the city of Multan under a high court order, driven to a military air base near the capital and flown to the Netherlands, accompanied by her family and the Dutch ambassador to Pakistan.
Pakistani officials insisted she had not been freed. The government, in a frantic effort to stop the spreading violence last week, agreed in negotiations with protest leaders that it would not allow her to leave the country.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman said Bibi has been released from prison but remains “in a safe place in Pakistan”. He cautioned the news media to verify all speculative reports of her leaving “to prevent needless sensationalism and controversy”.
The Muslim religious group leading the protests, which brought the country to a nearstandstill for three days after the October 31 verdict, has demanded her death and threatened to take to the streets again if the state abetted her escape. In a statement released yesterday, the group said Bibi’s reported release and flight violated the agreement, brought “pain and sorrow” to the nation and has “written a black chapter in history”.