The Pakistani government has been widely criticized for striking a deal with radical Islamic clerics and agreeing to prevent Christian mother Asia Bibi from leaving the country, despite her Supreme Court acquittal for blasphemy. The action, taken by Prime Minister Imran Khan in response to increasingly explosive protests at the ruling, will entail the pursuit of legal proceedings to place Asia Bibi on the “exit control list” (ECL).
Khan appealed for calm earlier in the week and accused radicals of doing “no service to Islam” by protesting the final judgment, but his words seemed only to embolden the furious crowds. The demonstrations continued to swell on Friday as thousands of hardliners associated with extremist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan party (TLP) took to the streets and demanded that the court reconsiders its verdict.
Maulana Fazlur Rehman in peshawer protesting at Asia Bibi acquittal. Huge crowd. pic.twitter.com/nxIeV7vg8k
— Gul Bukhari (@GulBukhari) November 2, 2018
Shockingly, as part of the government’s deal to appease the religious fanatics, it has also agreed not stifle any future appeal against the Supreme Court’s ruling on Bibi’s innocence. As such, the government has effectively washed its hands of Asia Bibi and has abandoned any notion of legal precedent as it relates to the Supreme Court. In a bid to bring a swift end to the protests, many have accused Imran Khan’s administration of effectively signing Bibi’s death warrant.
Pakistani columnist Mosharraf Zaidi tweeted that the agreement was a “historic capitulation.”
Pak PM @ImranKhanPTI surrenders to anti-blasphemy hardliners, bans #AsiaBibi leaving Pak & pledges not to oppose appeal against her acquittal— in effect signing her death warrant even as her lawyer flees Pak following death threats https://t.co/raS4z2dfgv
— Minhaz Merchant (@MinhazMerchant) November 3, 2018
The 44-year-old mother was sentenced to death in 2010 for allegedly insulting the prophet Muhammad, before being acquitted by Pakistan’s Supreme Court on October 31.
Those who have chosen to support Bibi’s cause have faced grave consequences. In 2011, shortly after Bibi’s conviction, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was brutally murdered for speaking out in support of the wrongly convicted Christian woman. Shot dead on the streets of Islamabad, his own bodyguard was found guilty of the heinous crime and, though sentenced to death himself, he has since become a cult hero with a large shrine in his honor erected on the outskirts of the capital city.
This is a new death sentence on #AsiaBibi from @pid_gov & they know it. If @ImranKhanPTI has courage to match that of Pakistan's Supreme Court justices, he'll reverse this extrajudicial surrender to those with a blood lust for the innocent. https://t.co/KmK1AYWzH5
— Declan Ganley (@declanganley) November 3, 2018
Just two months later, Christian politician and outspoken critic of the blasphemy laws, Shahbaz Bhatti, was also assassinated — shot dead by the Pakistani Taliban as he traveled to work.
Bibi’s lawyer, Saif Mulook, has already fled his home country, noting that it was “not possible” to continue living in Pakistan following the landmark ruling. “I need to stay alive as I still have to fight the legal battle for Asia Bibi,” he said, according to the BBC.
Chair of the British Pakistani Christian Association, Wilson Chowdhry, noted that he was “not surprised that Imran Khan’s regime has caved in to extremists.”
“Asia Bibi and her entire family are in need of immediate asylum,” he added. “She and her family have suffered enough, she just needs a country willing to cut through the bureaucracy.”
Protest in Faizabad coming to an end after agreement between clerics and govt pic.twitter.com/5DeQvagVKm
— Secunder Kermani (@SecKermani) November 2, 2018
The TLP is now asking its supporters to stop the protests and disperse peacefully.
Ashiq Masih, Asia’s husband, has called on several nations to “help us exit from Pakistan,” according to the Guardian, noting to German outlet DW that the government’s agreement to allow protesters to appeal the Supreme Court’s decision “sent a shiver down my spine.”
He added: “It is wrong to set a precedent in which you pile pressure onto the judiciary.”
“The current situation is very dangerous for us. We have no security and are hiding here and there, frequently changing our location. My wife, Asia Bibi, has already suffered greatly. She has spent 10 years in jail. My daughters were dying to see her free, but now this review petition will prolong her plight.”
Do continue to pray for Asia Bibi and her family as she fights for her freedom and safety.