Pakistani Christian woman on death row freed from jail

World | 9 Nov 2018

A Pakistani Christian woman who spent eight years on death row for blasphemy has been freed from jail and is believed to have already flown out of the city of Multan, where she was being held, headed for an unknown destination.

Asia Bibi's release comes a week after her acquittal in a landmark case that triggered angry Islamist protests in Muslim-majority Pakistan, and following appeals from her husband for Britain or America to grant the family asylum. Her lawyer has fled to the Netherlands under threat to his life.

Bibi's conviction was overturned by the country's highest court last week, but she remained in prison as the government negotiated with hardliners who blockaded major cities and demanded her immediate execution.

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

Following protests at her acquittal, the government agreed in a deal with Islamists to impose a travel ban on Bibi, and not to challenge an appeal in Supreme Court.

Her case has underscored deep divisions between traditionalists and modernizers in Pakistan.

The conviction stemmed from a 2009 incident when Bibi was asked to fetch water while out working in the fields.

Muslim women laborers objected to her touching the water bowl as a non-Muslim, and a fight erupted. A local imam then claimed Bibi insulted the Prophet Mohammed.

Bibi has consistently denied the charges, and her prosecution rallied international rights groups, politician, and religious figures.

Pope Benedict XVI called for her release in 2010, and several governments, including those in Italy and France have offered to help.

Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini tweeted: "I will do everything humanly possible to guarantee this young woman's future."

Blasphemy is an incendiary charge in Pakistan, where even unsubstantiated allegations of insulting Islam can result in death at the hands of mobs.


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