De­fense lawyer in Pak­istan blas­phemy case flees coun­try

Judges ac­quit­ted his client; Is­lamists still want her dead

Albany Times Union - Sunday - - NATION / WORLD - Is­lam­abad

The lawyer for a Chris­tian woman ac­quit­ted of blas­phemy charges after spend­ing 8 years on death row in Pak­istan has fled the coun­try, fear­ing for his safety, her brother said.

Asia Bibi’s lawyer, Sai­ful Malook, left Pak­istan leav­ing no fur­ther de­tails.

Pak­istan’s top court ac­quit­ted Bibi on Wed­nes­day and or­dered her re­lease in a move that in­fu­ri­ated the coun­try’s hard-line Is­lamists, who have held na­tion­wide protests de­mand­ing her ex­e­cu­tion.

The govern­ment reached a deal with the Is­lamists overnight in which it agreed to im­pose a travel ban on Bibi while the case is re­viewed. In re­turn, Is­lamists agreed to stop protests which blocked roads and brought life to a stand­still some ar­eas.

Malook told The Associated Press ear­lier this week that he would have to leave Pak­istan be­cause the fol­low­ers of hard-line cleric Khadim Hus­sain Rizvi had threat­ened to kill him and the judges.

The Ital­ian news­pa­per Cor­riere della Sera re­ported that Malook passed through Rome en route to Am­s­ter­dam where he would speak at a con­fer­ence next week be­fore re­lo­cat­ing to Lon­don.

Blas­phemy is pun­ish­able by death in Pak­istan.mere ru­mors cause lynch­ings. Sal­man Taseer, the gover­nor of Pun­jab prov­ince, was killed by one of his guards in 2011 for de­fend­ing Bibi and crit­i­ciz­ing the mis­use of the law.

The as­sas­sin, Mum­taz Qadri, was hanged for the crime, but later was hailed by hard-lin­ers as a mar­tyr, with mil­lions vis­it­ing a shrine for him near Is­lam­abad. Malook served as pros­e­cu­tor in Qadri’s trial.

Bibi was ar­rested in 2009 on al­le­ga­tions that she in­sulted Is­lam’s Prophet Muham­mad dur­ing an al­ter­ca­tion with other farm­work­ers. Her fam­ily and lawyers deny she ever in­sulted Is­lam.

Hu­man rights groups say the blas­phemy law is used to set­tle scores or abuse re­li­gious mi­nori­ties. The court up­held the blas­phemy law, but said there was not enough ev­i­dence to convict Bibi.

Pak­istan’s Supreme Court has not been known to re­verse de­ci­sions, but re­views like Bibi’s typ­i­cally take years. Bibi’s fam­ily had ex­pected her re­lease Thurs­day. Her hus­band and chil­dren were to take her out of Pak­istan. France and Spain of­fered asy­lum.

B.K. Ban­gash / Associated Press

Sai­ful Malook, lawyer for Asia Bibi, a Pak­istani Chris­tian woman on death row since 2010 due to blas­phemy charges, leaves Supreme court with a body­guard in Is­lam­abad.

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