Woman freed in blas­phemy case still hid­ing

The Progress-Index - - AMUSEMENTS - By Kathy Gan­non

IS­LAM­ABAD — A week af­ter Pak­istan's Supreme Court ac­quit­ted her of blas­phemy, a Chris­tian woman who had been on death row for eight years was freed from de­ten­tion Thurs­day, but her where­abouts are a closely guarded se­cret fol­low­ing de­mands by ex­trem­ists that she be hanged in pub­lic.

The case of Aa­sia Bibi has be­come a po­lit­i­cal mine­field for Prime Min­is­ter Imran Khan. He is try­ing to pla­cate the Mus­lim ex­trem­ists who have threat­ened to top­ple his govern­ment, while keep­ing the 54-year-old mother of five safe from a lynch mob and also find­ing a way to al­low her to leave Pak­istan with­out bring­ing ri­ot­ers into the streets.

Bibi has been of­fered asy­lum by the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, which cham­pi­oned her case af­ter she was con­victed in 2010 un­der Pak­istan's harsh blas­phemy law. There has been sharp world­wide crit­i­cism of the law, which re­mains pop­u­lar in the Mus­lim ma­jor­ity coun­try and car­ries the death penalty for in­sult­ing Is­lam but also has been used as a way to set­tle scores and pres­sure mi­nori­ties.

Bibi was with her fam­ily un­der heavy se­cu­rity af­ter be­ing trans­ferred to the Pak­istani cap­i­tal overnight from her de­ten­tion fa­cil­ity in south­ern Pun­jab, trig­ger­ing ex­pec­ta­tions of an im­mi­nent de­par­ture from the coun­try.

For the mo­ment, Bibi re­mained in Pak­istan, ac­cord­ing to two peo­ple close to her who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity so as not to en­dan­ger her. That was con­firmed later Thurs­day by In­for­ma­tion Min­is­ter Fawad Chaudhry.

Fol­low­ing her Oct. 31 ac­quit­tal by Pak­istan's Supreme Court, the hard-line Tehreek-e-Lab­baik Party forced a na­tion­wide shut­down as its sup­port­ers filled the streets for three days to protest the rul­ing. The ral­lies only dis­persed af­ter Khan's govern­ment promised that a court would re­view a mo­tion to chal­lenge the ac­quit­tal and deny Bibi per­mis­sion to leave Pak­istan.

Khan, who came to power af­ter elec­tions last sum­mer in part on an Is­lamist agenda, was im­me­di­ately ac­cused by crit­ics of giv­ing in to the ex­trem­ists.

Bibi's re­lease, high­se­cu­rity trans­fer to Is­lam­abad and her likely de­par­ture raised the pos­si­bil­ity that Khan's promises to the Is­lamists could have been an ef­fort to buy time. The govern­ment, how­ever, has not openly de­clared that Bibi was free to leave.

Tehreek-e-Lab­baik, in a video mes­sage that was cir­cu­lated widely Thurs­day, said it re­ceived govern­ment as­sur­ances fol­low­ing Bibi's re­lo­ca­tion to Is­lam­abad that she wouldn't leave the coun­try un­til the re­view pe­ti­tion was heard.

Khan, a for­mer cricket star and play­boy who has em­braced re­li­gious con­ser­vatism be­fore he ran for prime min­is­ter, is ham­strung by con­tra­dic­tions within his own govern­ment, ac­cord­ing to Zahid Hussain, who has writ­ten two books on the rise of mil­i­tancy in Pak­istan.

“There are some within the party, se­nior mem­bers of the party, who are pam­per­ing re­li­gious ex­trem­ists for the sake of votes, and some be­lieve in the same kind of world view,” Hussain said in an in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press.

Bibi's or­deal be­gan on a blis­ter­ing hot day in 2009 when she went to fetch wa­ter for her­self and fel­low farm­work­ers. An ar­gu­ment took place af­ter two women re­fused to drink from the same con­tainer as Bibi, who is Ro­man Catholic.

The two women later said Bibi had in­sulted the Prophet Muham­mad, and she was charged with blas­phemy. She was put on trial, con­victed and sen­tenced to death in 2010.

While her con­vic­tion was ap­pealed, her case gained world­wide at­ten­tion and fo­cused in­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism on the blas­phemy law. In an­nounc­ing her ac­quit­tal last week, a three-judge panel of the Supreme Court up­held the law it­self but said pros­e­cu­tors had failed to prove Bibi had vi­o­lated it.

Euro­pean Par­lia­ment Pres­i­dent An­to­nio Ta­jani in­vited Bibi and her fam­ily to Europe. In a let­ter, a copy of which was seen by the AP, Ta­jani told Bibi's hus­band Ashiq Masih that the par­lia­ment is “ex­tremely con­cerned for your safety as well as your fam­ily's, due to the vi­o­lence by ex­trem­ist el­e­ments in Pak­istan.”

The let­ter added to ex­pec­ta­tions that she and her fam­ily would leave for Europe, though their des­ti­na­tion has not been con­firmed. Spain and France have of­fered her asy­lum.

Speak­ing to the AP ear­lier this week in the Pun­jab cap­i­tal of La­hore, Masih said he hasn't slept much since his wife's ac­quit­tal and the sub­se­quent out­rage by ex­trem­ists.

His ini­tial joy quickly turned to sad­ness when he re­al­ized the or­deal was not over.


In this Nov. 1 file photo, Pak­istani pro­test­ers burn a poster image of Chris­tian woman Aa­sia Bibi in Hy­der­abad, Pak­istan. Bibi was ac­quit­ted of blas­phemy and re­leased from death row af­ter eight years, but her where­abouts in Is­lam­abad on Thurs­day, Nov. 8, re­mained a closely guarded se­cret in the wake of de­mands by rad­i­cal Is­lamists that she be pub­licly ex­e­cuted.

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