Asia Bibi’s lawyer leaves Pakistan citing threats to life

Islamabad: The lawyer of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was acquitted of blasphemy charges after eight years on death row, left the country on Saturday, saying his life was under threat.

Following the Supreme Court’s decision last week, religious parties staged protests in major cities across the country and incited violence against lawyer Saif-ul-Mulook as well as the judges.

Mulook claimed he was facing threats from sections of lawyers and it was difficult for him to practise in the prevailing situation, the Express Tribune reported.

The apex court on October 31 ordered Bibi’s immediate release stating that blasphemy charges could not be proven against her. She was accused by two women of insulting Prophet Muhammad in 2009 and a court sentenced her to death in 2010.

The protests were called off after radical Islamist group Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and the government reached an agreement, with the government promising to immediately initiate a legal process to place Bibi’s name on the Exit Control List.

As party of its deal with the TLP, the government said it would not oppose petitions filed against the top court’s verdict. According to the agreement, all protesters arrested since Bibi’s acquittal will be released and any violence towards them will be investigated.

Campaigners blasted the deal as akin to signing her “death warrant”.

Talking to the Express Tribune, Malook said that he would return to Pakistan to represent Asia at hearing of the review petition if the Army provided him security.

“My family is also facing immense security threat and the federal government should provide security to them,” he said.

The lawyer earlier this week said that Bibi would need to move to a Western country for her own safety. A number of attempts have previously been made on her life. Several countries have offered her asylum.

Pakistani Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry defended the government against allegations that the deal reached with the Islamist party was capitulating to extremists. He said the government would “take all steps necessary” to ensure Bibi’s safety.

Mulook, however, called the agreement “painful”.

Earlier Prime Minister Imran Khan had defended the top court’s judgment in a televised address, saying it was in accordance with the Constitution and appealed to the protesters not to challenge the state.

At least two public figures — former Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and minority minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian — were assassinated in 2011 for supporting Bibi and opposing the blasphemy law.