The two acquitted Christians might be murdered by Islamic fundamentalists if they sought refuge in England, the Church of England's only Pakistani- born bishop warned yesterday.
The Rt Rev Michael Nazir Ali, who holds dual British and Pakistani nationality, said he would appeal for Salamat Masih, 14, and his uncle Rehmat Masih, 44, to be allowed into this country "only if I were convinced it were the best way forward for them.
"Their lives and those of the lawyers who have helped them may be in danger now ... But becoming a refugee isn't very easy either. Both are from a very rural part of Pakistan. It would be a tremendous shock for them to come to Britain. Besides, shifting does not guarantee security, as Salman Rushdie found out. There are plenty of people here who could do them in.
"So if I were organising their arrival here, I wouldn't talk about it," the bishop said. The real problem, he said, is the blasphemy law under which the men were charged and faced a death sentence.
"This is a bad law ensnaring all sorts of innocent people, and it needs to be repealed. The present government of Benazir Bhutto is really embarrassed by it, but has not got the guts to repeal it."
Bishop Nazir Ali played no active part in the campaign to free the two. Neither did the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was touring India for most of the crisis. The Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Rev David Smith, visited the Pakistani High Commission to make his views plain.
The two accused men are Catholics, and Cardinal Basil Hume, the Archbishop of Westminster, appealed for their release this week. Fr Pat Davis, an assistant general-secretary to the Catholic Bishops' Conference, said that they had made no plans for moving the two out of Pakistan. "Anything in that direction would have to come from the Bishops' Conference in Pakistan anyway. In these days people are rather chary of leaping into other countries with ready-made solutions."
One church source said that it might well be bad policy to bring the two men out of Pakistan to safety in the West, since it would tend to reinforce the Islamic fundamentalists' argument that Christianity was an alien implant which did not belong in Pakistan.