Woman cleared in blas­phemy case still in Pak­istan

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - KATHY GANNON

IS­LAM­ABAD — A Chris­tian woman acquitted of blas­phemy af­ter spend­ing eight years on death row in Pak­istan has been trans­ferred from a se­cret lo­ca­tion near the cap­i­tal to an­other in Karachi, but is still un­able to leave the coun­try to join her daugh­ters in Canada, a friend said Satur­day.

Aman Ul­lah, who spoke to Aa­sia Bibi by tele­phone Fri­day, said the 54-year-old Bibi is be­ing held in a room in the south­ern port city. He said Bibi, who faces death threats by rad­i­cal Is­lamists, is frus­trated and fright­ened, un­cer­tain of when she will be able to leave Pak­istan.

“She has no in­di­ca­tion of when she will leave … they are not telling her why she can­not leave,” said Ul­lah, who fled the coun­try Fri­day af­ter re­ceiv­ing threats from ex­trem­ists an­gered by his as­sis­tance to Bibi, which be­gan while she was on death row.

Ul­lah has been a li­ai­son be­tween Bibi and Eu­ro­pean diplo­mats, who have sought to as­sist her. The As­so­ci­ated Press spoke to Bibi by tele­phone with Ul­lah’s as­sis­tance af­ter her Oc­to­ber ac­quit­tal, which was up­held last month.

Bibi’s or­deal be­gan in 2009 when two fel­low farm­work­ers re­fused to drink from the same con­tainer as a Chris­tian woman. There was a quar­rel and the two Mus­lim women later ac­cused Bibi of blas­phemy. The Supreme Court judges said there were wide­spread in­con­sis­ten­cies in the tes­ti­mony against Bibi, who has stead­fastly main­tained her in­no­cence.

The ac­quit­tal should have given Bibi her free­dom, but Ul­lah said diplo­mats were told that her de­par­ture from Pak­istan, where she feels her life would be in dan­ger, would come not in the short term, but “in the medium term.”

He said Bibi told him she is locked in one room of a house.

“The door opens at food time only,” said Ul­lah, and she is al­lowed to make phone calls in the morn­ing and again at night. He said she usu­ally calls her daugh­ters.

Bibi’s hus­band is with her, he said.

“She is liv­ing with her fam­ily and given req­ui­site se­cu­rity for safety,” In­for­ma­tion Min­is­ter Fawad Chaudhry said in an email.

He said the govern­ment was re­spon­si­ble for tak­ing “all pos­si­ble mea­sures” to pro­tect her and her fam­ily, adding that “she is a free cit­i­zen af­ter her re­lease from jail and can move any­where in Pak­istan or abroad.”

Bibi told Ul­lah the se­cu­rity de­tail as­signed to her re­fuses to ex­plain why she is still con­fined.

Bibi’s case has brought in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion to Pak­istan’s blas­phemy law, which car­ries an au­to­matic death sen­tence for a con­vic­tion of in­sult­ing Is­lam. There have been wide­spread com­plaints that the law is used to set­tle scores and in­tim­i­date re­li­gious mi­nori­ties, in­clud­ing Shi­ite Mus­lims.

The mere sug­ges­tion of blas­phemy can in­cite mobs to kill. Af­ter Bibi’s Oc­to­ber ac­quit­tal the rad­i­cal Tehreek-e-Lab­baik party called its fol­low­ers onto the streets, where they protested for three days de­mand­ing Bibi’s im­me­di­ate ex­e­cu­tion as well as the death of the judges who acquitted her. The party lead­er­ship also ad­vo­cated over­throw­ing Prime Min­is­ter Im­ran Khan’s govern­ment and in­cited the mil­i­tary against the army chief.

Since then the party’s lead­er­ship has been ar­rested along with dozens of their sup­port­ers for in­cit­ing vi­o­lence.

Ul­lah, a rights ac­tivist, first be­gan aid­ing those falsely charged with blas­phemy when his wife was wrongly ac­cused, and has since helped sev­eral peo­ple gain their free­dom. Bibi’s case brought him to the at­ten­tion of re­li­gious rad­i­cals.

In re­cent months, he has been phys­i­cally as­saulted, gun­men have opened fire on his home, and sev­eral re­li­gious rad­i­cals at­tacked his home. Ul­lah said he fears be­ing at­tacked again or charged with blas­phemy.

Bibi hopes to be able to join her daugh­ters in Canada, where they have been granted asy­lum.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.