Asia Bibi: Pakistan government stops Christian woman leaving country after 'caving in' to hardline Islamists

Agreement brings to an end three days of mass demonstrations across country

Peter Stubley
Saturday 03 November 2018 17:44 GMT
Protests across Pakistan after acquittal of Asia Bibi blasphemy trial

The Pakistani government has been accused of caving in to hardline Islamists by agreeing to stop a Christian woman leaving the country following her acquittal for blasphemy.

Under the terms of the deal made on Friday night, prime minister Imran Khan’s administration said it would begin legal proceedings to place Asia Bibi on the “exit control list” (ECL).

It also agreed not to oppose a petition for a review of the Supreme Court decision to free the mother-of-five, who had been on death row since 2010.

In return the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan party (TLP) issued an apology for any hurt caused during three days of nationwide protests and called for its supporters to disperse.

The deal was described by English-language Dawn newspaper as “another surrender” and campaigners said putting Ms Bibi on the ECL was “like signing her death warrant”.

“I am not surprised that Imran Khan’s regime has caved in to extremists,” said Wilson Chowdhry, chair of the British Pakistani Christian Association.

“Asia Bibi and her entire family are in need of immediate asylum. She and her family have suffered enough, she just needs a country willing to cut through the bureaucracy.

“Every moment that she stays in Pakistan, Asia Bibi remains a lightning rod for radical extremists.”

Ms Bibi, a mother-of-five, remains in custody at an undisclosed detention facility and her family are in hiding for their own safety.

Her lawyer, Saif Mulook, has reportedly fled Pakistan for fear of his life. “I need to stay alive as I still have to fight the legal battle for Asia Bibi,” Mr Mulook said.

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Ms Bibi was arrested in 2009 and accused of insulting the prophet Muhammad following a quarrel with two fellow farm workers who refused to drink from a cup used by a Christian.

Her acquittal led Islamist leaders to call for the death of the judges who made the decision and the removal of the government.

Prime minister Imran Khan had initially defended the Supreme Court’s decision and pledged to “take strict action against violators”.

Islamist protesters burn a poster of Imran Khan after the acquittal of Asia Bibi

During the three days of protests, the TLP blockaded roads across major cities including Karachi, the eastern city of Lahore, and the capital Islamabad.

Many schools were closed and mobile phone networks in some areas were suspended.

Information minister Fawad Chaudhry described the deal to end the protests as “just another firefighting step”.

“We need to take steps against extremism,” he told the BBC. “We need to come up with a permanent solution. Our government is committed to the cure.”

Tensions in the country increased on Friday when prominent cleric Maulana Samiul Haq, described as “the father of the Taliban”, was stabbed to death in his bedroom in the city of Rawalpindi.

Additional reporting by AP

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