Saturday 17 November 2018

Pakistan blasphemy lawyer flees country in fear for his life

Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan (AP)
Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan (AP)

Peter Stubley

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". 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".

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.

Bibi was accused of making derogatory remarks about Islam after two fellow farm workers objected to her sharing a communal water cup at a local well, because she was not Muslim. Her acquittal led Islamist leaders to call for the death of the judges who made the decision and the removal of the government. Two politicians who sought to help Bibi have been assassinated.

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

During the three days of protests, the TLP blockaded roads across major cities including Karachi, the eastern city of Lahore, and the capital Islamabad. Schools were closed and mobile phone networks were suspended.

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..

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