Christian woman whose death sentence was overturned expected to leave Pakistan
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Asia Bibi, the Christian woman who spent eight years on death row for blasphemy before being acquitted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan on October 31, has been released from prison and is in a safe and secure place, according to Fides news service.
The news came in the midst of uncertainty about whether the Catholic woman would ever be released and what would happen to her if she were. A fundamentalist Islamic group filed an appeal to the Supreme Court ruling, and her family and others were appealing for asylum in foreign countries, based on the fate of those who have been charged with blasphemy in the past or those who defended them. Even Bibi’s lawyer apparently felt it was unsafe to remain in Pakistan and fled to Europe.
The European Parliament has made an offer to protect Bibi’s family, according to the Associated Press:
In a letter, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani invited Bibi and her family to Europe. In the 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.”
Mohamed Faisal, spokesman for the Pakistani Foreign Ministry, reported that Bibi “is a free citizen” but will leave the country if the Supreme Court rejects the request for the reversal of the verdict.
Prison authorities released Bibi on the evening of November 7. In conditions of maximum security, the woman was taken by air from the prison of Multan, where she was, to the capital, Islamabad, and then transferred to a secret and safe place, Fides reported. Zawar Hussain Warraich, director of prisons in the province of Punjab, confirmed the order for her release came on November 7.
“Normally we receive orders to release prisoners two days after the court ruling,” Warraich said. “In Asia Bibi’s case, the order was issued late and arrived at the penitentiary on 7 November.”
Bibi’s acquittal, based on a dearth of evidence, has generated protests by thousands of radical Muslims 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, said AP.
Saiful Malook, Bibi’s lawyer, left for the Netherlands for security reasons but said he was preparing for her and her family’s expatriation.
After her release, the religious parties Muthaida Majlis and Amal (MMA) and Jamat-e-Islami have announced new protests in Karachi for Thursday and Friday.
Nevertheless, Christians in Pakistan were relieved to hear the news.
“All of this is the fruit of God’s mercy. We are grateful to God, to the judiciary and to the Pakistani government for Asia Bibi’s release,” a young Christian human rights activist named Urooj told Fides.
Fr. Mario Rodrigues, a Catholic priest from Karachi, told Fides: “We are happy for Asia Bibi. As Christians we always support the rule of law, justice, legality, peace, because we love our country. We want to underline today also the profound testimony of the Christian faith that Asia Bibi has given us: an innocent woman, for many years in prison, who has not cursed her history but has forgiven her persecutors and lived imprisonment in constant prayer.”