clear
Sunday November 18th, 2018 9:28AM

Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy freed in Pakistan

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

ISLAMABAD (AP) — A Christian woman acquitted after eight years on death row in Pakistan for blasphemy was released but her whereabouts in Islamabad on Thursday remained a closely guarded secret in the wake of demands by radical Islamists that she be publicly executed.

Aasia Bibi was with her family and under heavy security after being transferred to the Pakistani capital overnight from her detention facility in southern Punjab, triggering expectations that her departure from the country could be imminent.

The European Parliament has made an offer to protect Bibi and her family but for the moment she was still in Pakistan, according to two people close to her. They spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to endanger Bibi's life.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry confirmed later on Thursday that Bibi was still in Pakistan.

Radical Islamists have been demanding Bibi's death as well as the death of the three Supreme Court judges who acquitted her last week.

Following her acquittal, the hard-line Tehreek-e-Labbaik Party forced a country-wide shut down as their supporters took to the streets for three days to protest Bibi's release.

Scores of protesters were arrested for damaging vehicles and property during the rallies and bank accounts of some of the leaders of the party were reportedly frozen.

The rallies only dispersed after Prime Minister Imran Khan's government promised a court would review a motion to challenge the acquittal and deny Bibi permission to leave Pakistan.

Critics immediately accused Khan, who came to power after elections last summer riding in part on an Islamist agenda, of capitulating to the radicals.

Bibi's release, her high-security transfer to Islamabad and her likely departure raised the prospect that Khan's "promises" to the Islamists could have been an effort to buy time. The government, however, has not openly declared Bibi was free to leave the country.

The radical Tehreek-e-Labbaik, in a widely circulated video message, said it received government assurances following Bibi's relocation to Islamabad that she wouldn't leave the country until the review petition was heard.

Bibi's ordeal began on a blistering hot day in 2009 when the 54-year-old mother of five, a farmworker, went to fetch water. An argument took place after two fellow women farmworkers refused to drink from the same container as a Christian.

Nearly a week later, the two women said Bibi had insulted the Prophet Muhammad and she was charged with blasphemy — a controversial issue in Pakistan, where mere accusations of blasphemy can cause riots. The charge itself carries the death penalty. Bibi was sentenced to death in 2010.

Her case garnered worldwide attention and brought sharp criticism of Pakistan's blasphemy law.

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani invited Bibi and her family to Europe. In a letter, a copy of which was seen by The Associated Press, Tajani tells Bibi's husband Ashiq Masih, that the European Parliament is "extremely concerned for your safety as well as your family's, due to the violence by extremist elements in Pakistan."

The letter added to expectations that Bibi and her family would leave for Europe, though their destination has not been confirmed. Earlier, Spain and France had offered her asylum.

Speaking to the AP earlier this week in the Punjab capital of Lahore, Masih said he hasn't slept much since Bibi's acquittal and the subsequent Islamist rage.

Fear consumes him every time his phone rings and the shouts of the radicals, "Hang her!" haunt him constantly, he said.

"Sometimes I pace on the rooftop, sometimes I walk on the road outside our home," he said. "I look at the faces around me and I wonder if anyone is waiting to hurt us."

His initial joy at the acquittal quickly turned to heart-wrenching sadness when he realized his wife and his family's ordeal was still not over.

Even mere suggestions of blasphemy can whip mobs into a lynching frenzy in Pakistan. In 2011, the governor of Punjab, Pakistan's most populous province, was killed by his own guard after he defended Bibi and criticized the blasphemy law. A year later, the minister for minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, was shot and killed.

For Bibi's husband, leaving Pakistan is a painful decision but still a matter of life and death.

"We have no other choice but to leave," he said. "I love Pakistan but I can't live here."

Even in Bibi's dirt poor home village of Aitta Wali — a farming community where animals and villagers share tiny sunbaked mud houses — villagers are still outraged by her acquittal and warned a visiting AP reporter to "go. Just get out. Go."

"Our entire village swore on the Quran that she insulted the prophet but no one believes us and everyone believes her," said Aman Ali, one of the villagers. "Before this we liked the Christian families. We always got along. But now there is only anger."

The village's remaining three Christian families have fled.

Muhammad Afzal Qadri, a leader in the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Party and religious scholar, said he doesn't regret calling for the deaths of the judges who acquitted Bibi — or for calling on his followers to overthrow Khan's government.

At his sprawling madrassa in the Punjab city of Gujrat, Qadri told the AP this week that he had the religious authority to declare a fatwa, or edict, demanding the judges be killed.

Pakistan is bound by Islamic injunctions, he said, adding that he was qualified to decide such matters. The West only seeks to undermine Pakistan's Islamic traditions and culture, Qadri said.

Zahid Hussain, author of two books on militancy in Pakistan, said Islamists rallies over Bibi's acquittal were an attempt to regain positions the extremists had lost in the July elections.

"They are trying to mobilize people on this issue, creating more extremism," said Hussain. "They have created a sense of fear in society, for anyone who disagrees with their view of Islam."

___

Associated Press writers Munir Ahmed in Islamabad and Asim Tanvir in Multan, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Online Congress News, AP World News
© Copyright 2018 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy freed in Pakistan
Christian woman acquitted from death row for blasphemy has been freed but remains in Pakistan
1:18AM ( 8 minutes ago )
LeBron leads Lakers to 3rd win in 4, 114-110 over Wolves
LeBron James had 24 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, and Kyle Kuzma scored six of his 21 points late in the Lakers' 114-110 victory over the Timberwolves
1:09AM ( 17 minutes ago )
Pence to visit Japan on start of Asian tour next week
Pence will visit Japan next week to discuss North Korea and other issues ahead of two key international meetings in the Asia-Pacific region
1:05AM ( 21 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Newly empowered Dems take aim at Trump business conflicts
House Democrats prepared to use their majority and subpoena power to go after Trump financial records
12:36AM ( 51 minutes ago )
Cybersecurity officials start focusing on the 2020 elections
With Election Day behind them, cybersecurity officials in the US say they are not aware of voting systems being compromised by Russia or other foreign agents
12:36AM ( 52 minutes ago )
Trump, Pelosi talk about getting along - until they don't
Trump and Pelosi talk about working together before issuing warnings if partisanship prevails
12:29AM ( 58 minutes ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
McCaskill loss in Missouri illustrates urban-rural divide
Rural voters in Missouri were crucial to Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill's loss to Attorney General Josh Hawley
8:35PM ( 4 hours ago )
Boosted by activism, Nevada women score big election wins
A female political movement driven by backlash to President Donald Trump kicked off the year with a women's march in Nevada, and 11 months later, that activism has helped women win key races across the state
8:03PM ( 5 hours ago )
Colorado moves left, electing 1st openly gay governor in US
Colorado Democrats have flipped control of the state Senate, giving the party a trifecta of Statehouse control with the historic victory of U.S. Rep. Jared Polis as the nation's first openly gay governor
8:00PM ( 5 hours ago )
AP Online Congress News
Bolivian observatory collects data as glaciers melt
A team of international scientists at the world's highest atmospheric observatory collect data on pollution that has contributed to the rapid disappearance of Andean glaciers
12:35AM ( 54 minutes ago )
Boeing plane crashed in Indonesia after key sensor replaced
Indonesian investigators say a crucial sensor was replaced on a Lion Air jet the day before it plunged into the Java Sea, and that sensor replacement may have exacerbated other problems with the plane
7:41PM ( 5 hours ago )
Vietnam, US complete cleanup of toxic chemical from airport
Vietnam and the United States have finished cleaning up dioxin contamination at Danang airport caused by the transport and storage of the herbicide Agent Orange during the Vietnam War
7:31PM ( 5 hours ago )
AP World News
LeBron leads Lakers to 3rd win in 4, 114-110 over Wolves
LeBron James had 24 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, and Kyle Kuzma scored six of his 21 points late in the Lakers' 114-110 victory over the Timberwolves
1:09AM ( 20 minutes ago )
Pence to visit Japan on start of Asian tour next week
Pence will visit Japan next week to discuss North Korea and other issues ahead of two key international meetings in the Asia-Pacific region
1:05AM ( 24 minutes ago )
Minority candidates see both success and veiled racism
For all the many successes among candidates of color, the midterm elections also proved to some the enduring power of racism
1:02AM ( 26 minutes ago )
Central American migrants debate route to US border, options
Central American migrants resting in Mexico City debated which route they should take to the border and what legal options were available to them in Mexico and the United States ahead of vote on what the next step of their caravan should be
12:54AM ( 34 minutes ago )
Caravan members in Mexico debate options, route to US border
Central American migrants resting in Mexico City debated which route they should take to the border and what legal options were available to them in Mexico and the United States ahead of vote on what the next step of their caravan should be
12:48AM ( 41 minutes ago )