Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Pakistani woman at centre of blasphemy row leaves jail



Pakistani woman at centre of blasphemy row leaves jail

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who spent eight years on death row for blasphemy, has been freed from jail, her lawyer said on Thursday. BRITISH PAKISTANI CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION/AFP

Pakistani woman at centre of blasphemy row leaves jail

A Pakistani Christian woman who spent eight years on death row for blasphemy has been freed from jail after an acquittal that triggered Islamist protests, but is still in Pakistan, officials said on Thursday amid appeals for her to be offered asylum.

Asia Bibi’s conviction was overturned by the country’s highest court last Wednesday, but she remained in prison as the government negotiated with hardliners who blockaded major cities and demanded her immediate execution.

Islamist parties had already vowed to take to the streets of Karachi later Thursday to protest her acquittal and numbers were now expected to swell sharply following news of her release.

“She has been freed,” lawyer Saif-ul-Mulook said. “I have been told that she is on a plane but nobody knows where she will land.”

Following protests at last week’s ruling, the government agreed in a deal with Islamists to impose a travel ban on Bibi, and not to challenge an appeal in the Supreme Court.

Foreign ministry spokesman Muhammad Faisal on Thursday denied media reports that she had left the country. “She is in Pakistan”, he said.

Intelligence sources also told media that she had not left the country.

An order for her release arrived on Wednesday at the jail in the central city of Multan where she was held, said a prison official.

“Asia Bibi has left the prison and has been transferred to a safe place!” tweeted Antonio Tajani, president of the European Parliament.

Another civil aviation official, in Multan, said a small plane arrived in the city with “a few foreigners and some Pakistanis” on board to fetch Bibi.

Her case has underscored deep divisions between traditionalists and modernisers in the devoutly Muslim country.

The conviction stemmed from a 2009 incident when Bibi was asked to fetch water while out working in the fields.

Muslim women labourers objected to her touching the water bowl as a non-Muslim, and a fight reportedly erupted.

A local imam then claimed Bibi insulted the Prophet Mohammed.

Bibi has consistently denied the charges, and her prosecution rallied international rights groups, politicians and religious figures.

Pope Benedict XVI called for her release in 2010, while his successor, Pope Francis, met her daughter in 2015.

Incendiary charge

Bibi’s husband Ashiq Masih has appealed for Britain or the US to grant the family asylum and several governments including those of Italy and France have offered to help.

Her lawyer fled to the Netherlands on Saturday under threat to his life.

Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini tweeted: “I will do everything humanly possible to guarantee this young woman’s future.”

Blasphemy is an incendiary charge in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unsubstantiated allegations of insulting Islam can result in death at the hands of mobs.

Mere calls to reform the law have provoked violence, most notably the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, by his own bodyguard in Islamabad in 2011.

Taseer had called for Bibi’s release, and his son Shahbaz tweeted “Pakistan Zindabad” (“Long live Pakistan”) following last week’s ruling.

Thousands of Islamist hardliners poured onto the streets in protest after Supreme Court judges overturned Bibi’s conviction last Wednesday.

Demonstrations broke out in major cities across the country in the wake of the ruling, with club-wielding protesters blocking Islamabad’s main highway and barricading roads in Karachi and Lahore.

One of the most vocal groups in the protests – the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) – called for “mutiny” against the army’s top brass and the assassination of the top court’s justices.

In a statement, the TLP termed Bibi’s release “against the government agreement”.

“The entire atmosphere of Pakistan is in pain and grief after hearing the news about the blasphemer of the holy prophet Asia,” it said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh unveils rules for post-lockdown transition

    The Phnom Penh Municipal Administration issued a set of detailed guidelines for the seven days to May 12 after the capital emerges from lockdown at the onset of May 6. In the 14-page document signed by municipal governor Khuong Sreng released on the evening of May 5, the

  • SBI LY HOUR Bank Launches Cross Border Money Transfer Service between Cambodia and Vietnam on RippleNet, utilizing DLT

    SBI LY HOUR Bank Plc and Hanoi-based Tien Phong Commercial Joint Stock Bank (TPBank) on Friday launched the first Cambodia-Vietnam money transfer service in real currency via RippleNet, provided by SBI Ripple Asia Co Ltd to provide safe, fast and convenient services. SBI LY HOUR

  • Gov’t issues guidelines as lockdown nears end

    The government has issued a five-page set of instructions to be enforced when the three-week lockdown of Phnom Penh and adjacent Takmao town in Kandal province ends on May 6. According to an announcement signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on May 4, the instructions cover a

  • Cambodia ready to exit LDC status

    Cambodia is well-prepared to minimise economic risks when it graduates from its Least Developed Countries status, according to a senior official at the Ministry of Commerce on May 7. Four LDCs – Cambodia, Laos, Bangladesh and Nepal – met at a virtual workshop last week to explore potential

  • Nine US franchises eye Cambodia debut

    Nine famous US franchising companies are looking for business opportunities and expansion into Cambodia to build a footstep for a strong foundation in Southeast Asia. The US embassy in Phnom Penh, in partnership with the US Foreign Commercial Service and with support from the American

  • Lost in translation: ‘Starvation’ in capital’s designated red zones

    “DACH bay” is a Khmer slang meaning a “loss of income”, that could also be literally translated to «deprived of rice”, which alludes to starvation. However, civil society organisation (CSO) officials have independently confirmed the government’s prior assertions that there are no cases of