Friday 20 September 2019

Death row 'blasphemer' forced into hiding after she is freed

Asia Bibi was charged with defaming Mohammed. Photo: AFP/Getty
Asia Bibi was charged with defaming Mohammed. Photo: AFP/Getty

Ben Farmer

A Christian woman spared the death sentence after her blasphemy conviction was quashed has been freed from jail as Pakistani authorities insisted she remains in the country.

Asia Bibi was flown from prison in Punjab province to the capital, prompting speculation she may already be en route to asylum in Europe.

But the government said she remained in Pakistan as Imran Khan's administration tried to avoid a repeat of protests by religious hard-liners that paralysed the country after her acquittal last week.

"Asia Bibi is completely secure at a safe place in Pakistan," said Mohammad Faisal, a foreign ministry spokesman. "Asia Bibi can go anywhere she wants to. If she wants to go abroad, no harm in it."

However, a UK Christian charity said the Catholic mother-of-five and her family remained in danger. Her husband has appealed to countries including Britain to grant his family asylum.

Last night, 24 British cross-party Catholic MPs and lords called on Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to allow Mrs Bibi to make her home in the UK.

Antonio Tajani, president of the European parliament, has already offered the family refuge in Europe.

News that the 53-year-old farm worker had been freed and flown from Multan to Islamabad triggered anger from hardline religious parties.

Thousands marched in the port city of Karachi to call for her execution and other cities were braced for a repeat of last week's protests, which blocked roads and closed schools and offices.

A spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Labaik party said her release violated a deal with the government under which assurances had been given she would stay in the country until the supreme court had heard a petition protesting against her acquittal in return for calling off action.

But the information minister said speculation she had left the country was "extremely irresponsible".

Ms Bibi spent eight years on death row after she was wrongly convicted of defaming the prophet Mohammed. She denied blasphemy and said she was falsely accused.

The Netherlands yesterday offered temporary exile to Saiful Mulook, her lawyer, who fled Pakistan last weekend. (© Daily Telegraph London)

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