November 14, 2018

PAKISTAN: Pakistani Christian Woman Asia Bibi Who Spent Eight Years On DEATH ROW For Blasphemy (Accused Of Insulting Islam), Has Been Freed. But Still In Prison For Protection From Muslim Mob.

France24 News
written by AFP staff
Wednesday November 7, 2018

ISLAMABAD - Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi, who spent eight years on death row for blasphemy, has been freed from jail, her lawyer said Thursday.

The country's highest court last week overturned Bibi's conviction and ordered her release, but she had remained incarcerated as the government agreed to allow a review following Islamist protests over the bitterly divisive case.

"She has been freed. I have been told that she is on a plane but nobody knows where she will land," lawyer Saif-ul-Malook said in a message sent to AFP.

A release order arrived Wednesday at the prison in the central city of Multan, where Bibi was detained, a prison official told AFP.

Her husband Ashiq Masih has appealed for Britain or the United States to grant the family asylum, while Malook has fled to the Netherlands.

Bibi's case has underscored divisions between traditionalists and modernisers in the devoutly Muslim nation.

It stems from an incident in 2009 when she was asked to fetch water while out working in the fields.

Muslim women labourers objected, saying that as a non-Muslim, she should not touch the water bowl, and reportedly a fight erupted.

A local imam then claimed Bibi insulted the Prophet Mohammed -- a charge she denies.

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.

Thousands of Islamists poured onto the streets in protest after Supreme Court judges overturned Bibi's conviction last Wednesday, causing Prime Minister Imran Khan's administration to sign a controversial deal.
Dutch News
written by Staff
Thursday November 8, 2018

The Dutch foreign ministry has declined to comment on reports that Asia Bibi, the Christian Pakistani woman acquitted on blasphemy charges has been released and is heading for the Netherlands.

Various reports say Bibi may have left Pakistan for the Netherlands, which was reached by her lawyer earlier this week.

ChristenUnie MP Joel Voordewind has told Dutch media he is sure Bibi is heading for Europe but could not confirm that the Netherlands is her end destination. He bases his claim on sources in Pakistan and on conversations with her lawyer Saif ul-Mulook.

Ul-Mulook arrived in Amsterdam on Monday and told a news conference later that he hopes the Netherlands will ‘invite him’ to stay. He was helped to reach the Netherlands by Dutch charity Stichting Hulp Vervolgde Christenen (HVC), which has also helped to finance Bibi’s legal defence.

‘The Netherlands calls itself a champion of human rights,’ he said. ‘If this country cannot protect me, I would rather go back to Pakistan to allow myself to be murdered by religious fanatics,’ local media quoted him as saying.

Ul-Mulook said he feared for his life in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to acquit Asia Bibi, a Christian woman accused of insulting the prophet Muhammad, because of a lack of evidence. She had spent eight years on death row.
Deutsche Welle (DW) News, Germany
written by Shamil Shams
Thursday November 8, 2018

Asia Bibi, a Christian woman accused of blasphemy, has been released from prison. But the fact that she must leave Pakistan lest she be killed shows the state is being controlled by Islamists, says DW's Shamil Shams.

The Pakistani state took nearly 10 years away from Asia Bibi. Born in 1971, she has spent the prime of her life in jail. Bibi, an impoverished mother of five, was incarcerated for insulting Islam in 2009, and sentenced to death in 2010.

In Pakistan, it only takes a mere accusation, a slight assertion, to put someone behind bars on blasphemy charges. At last, after a long and arduous legal battle lasting nearly a decade, Pakistan's top court acquitted Bibi on October 31. The verdict was hailed by liberals and rights activists all over the world.

The logical outcome of the Supreme Court's decision would have been Bibi's immediate freedom. But authorities were forced to keep her in prison for over a week. Hard-line Islamist groups are demanding her death, and they have taken to the streets in protest of the court's ruling.

No blasphemer has the right to live, they chant, while setting cars and shops on fire in many cities. The Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) group says the judges who acquitted Bibi must be killed.

They're also urging army officials who are loyal to the Islamist narrative to revolt against the incumbent army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

In spite of this serious challenge to its authority, Pakistan's government has not met the Islamist protesters with an iron fist. Prime Minister Imran Khan's government caved in to extremists and agreed to take legal measures barring Bibi from traveling abroad.

Pakistani authorities justified their agreement with the TLP, arguing they wanted to avoid more violence on the streets. It's possible they were only buying more time to deal with the situation. On Wednesday evening, news broke that Bibi had finally been released from prison and could potentially soon be taken out of the country to safety.

A failure of law

Bibi's heart-wrenching ordeal has proven that blasphemy remains a sensitive issue in Pakistan and, more importantly, the blasphemy laws in place since the 1980s cannot be challenged.

Opposing these laws, or demanding amendments to them, would be considered sacrilegious in Pakistan. Two prominent politicians were killed in 2011 for supporting Bibi and calling for the blasphemy laws to be reviewed.

While Bibi's acquittal by the Supreme Court was a positive step, the legal foundation on which the judges issued their verdict is problematic. They ruled that Bibi was released due to lack of evidence. The ruling doesn't set a strong legal precedence, as we know how easy it can be to fabricate evidence in countries like Pakistan.

Right now Pakistani lawmakers need to sit together and review the country's controversial Islamic-rooted legal system. I don't expect the state – of which the military is the most powerful component – to change its overall Islamic narrative that breeds extremism in the country. It obviously serves the country's ruling classes to perpetuate animosity towards India, while the Pakistani military gets the lion's share of the country's budget.

But recent events should be a wake-up call for Pakistani politicians, generals and the judiciary that legal change – if not a total overhaul of the state – is necessary. If the Pakistani government and judiciary won't undertake these measures, the state could lose its authority in the coming years, and Pakistan would be run by religious extremists from the streets.

The state can't protect itself

However, it looks like the Pakistani state has already lost most of its authority. The fact that Bibi, after being proven innocent by the highest court in the country, could not leave jail lest she be murdered by hard-liners, shows Pakistan is on the way to becoming a failed state.

Currently, there is speculation that Bibi will soon be taken out of the country, or has already been flown out. But why can't Bibi stay in Pakistan as a free citizen? Why can't she move freely inside her own country? Why is it necessary that she escape to the West? Can Pakistan function like a normal state? I think it is high time that Pakistani authorities, both civilian and military, change the dangerous course they have taken since the 1980s.

The obsession to carve "strategic depth" in Afghanistan to counter regional rival India has emaciated the Pakistani state to an extent that even the country's powerful military establishment has to bow down to jihadist proxies.
The Guardian, UK
written by Patrick Wintour
Tuesday November 13, 2018

The Foreign Office has been accused of allowing government asylum policy to be dictated to by a Pakistan mob after it was confirmed it urged the Home Office not to grant Asia Bibi political asylum in the UK out of fear for the safety of UK consular staff.

Asia Bibi, a Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy, is seeking asylum after threats to her life in Pakistan. The former UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson was among many MPs calling for her and her family to be granted sanctuary in Britain.

The acquittal of the 53-year-old Catholic farmworker by Pakistan’s supreme court last month prompted demonstrations by hardline Islamist parties in Pakistan who had campaigned for her to be hanged.

She remains in protective custody in an undisclosed location in Pakistan after the prime minister, Imran Khan, agreed to allow a petition against the court’s decision as part of a deal to halt the protests.

Her husband, Ashiq Masih, has appealed for help to Britain, Canada, Italy and the US but the UK high commissioner in Islamabad is reported to have warned he could not protect his staff if asylum was granted by the UK.

Tom Tugendhat, the foreign affairs select committee chair, asked the Foreign Office permanent secretary, Sir Simon McDonald, whether the episode “does not raise the question that either staff should be withdrawn or security increased or otherwise UK policy is effectively dictated to by a mob?”.

Tugendhat took the committee into lengthy private session after McDonald said he did not wish to give evidence in public on a such a sensitive issue

McDonald defended Britain’s efforts to find a third country to take Bibi, saying this would allow UK policy objectives to be achieved without any risk to its staff.

Tugendhat said the episode represented “one of the clearest examples of free conscience being challenged today”.

The senior Labour MP Mike Gapes said: “Given the clear inability of this new Pakistani government of Imran Khan to stop these mobs from intimidating and killing Christians in Pakistan, is it not time to reassess our relations with Pakistan? There are big concerns if religious minorities in Pakistan are not safe.”

McDonald said the Britain’s relationship with Pakistan relationship was important to both countries.

He added: “If the objective is to protect life and some other country can provide some more complete safe harbour, why should the UK not be open to working with that country?”

The Pakistan foreign office confirmed on Tuesday that it had been holding talks with the Canadian foreign ministry over granting Bibi asylum.

Confirmation of talks between the two governments came after the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, said on Monday his government was talking to Pakistan about the case.

“We are in discussions with the Pakistani government,” Trudeau said in an interview with Agence France-Presse (AFP) in Paris, where he was attending a peace conference organised by the French president, Emmanuel Macron.

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