The lawyer of a Christian woman in Pakistan who was acquitted in a blasphemy case on Wednesday fled the country early on Saturday fearing for his life amid nationwide protests by hundreds of radical Islamist hardliners, AFP reported. Protests broke out immediately after the verdict in Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Multan.
“In the current scenario, it is not possible for me to live in Pakistan,” 62-year-old Saif ul-Mulook told the news agency before boarding a plane to Europe. “I need to stay alive as I still have to fight the legal battle for Asia Bibi.”
On Friday night, the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan party – which has primarily led the demonstrations – announced an end to protests after reaching an agreement with the government. The two sides signed a five-point agreement, according to which the government will not object to an appeal of the verdict that has been filed in the Supreme Court. Legal proceedings will now be initiated to impose a travel ban on Bibi and stop her from leaving the country.
“I am thankful to all Muslims who have played their part to ensure respect for Prophet Muhammad,” PTI quoted Tehreek-e-Labaik chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi as telling his followers before calling off the protests. “You have made an example and lesson for our generations to come about what it means to respect the Holy Prophet.”
Asked about the protests, Mulook said it was “unfortunate but not unexpected”.
“What is painful is the response of the government,” he added. “They cannot even implement an order of the country’s highest court.” The lawyer said “the struggle for justice must continue” and pointed out that “her life would be more or less the same, either inside a prison or in solitary confinement for security fears”.
Asia Bibi was accused of insulting Prophet Muhammad during an argument with a group of women in her neighbourhood near Lahore in 2009. The women had said they could no longer use a cup from which Bibi had had water, because of her religion. Bibi later acknowledged she had used “hot words” during the argument that followed, but claimed to have not said anything blasphemous.
Bibi was sentenced to death for blasphemy by a trial court in 2010. She moved the Supreme Court against a 2014 Lahore High Court order that upheld the trial court’s decision. She has spent most of the last eight years in solitary confinement.
In 2011, Salman Taseer, who was then the governor of Punjab province, was assassinated by a bodyguard in Islamabad, days after he expressed support for Bibi. According to a 2018 report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, around 40 people are believed to be on death row or serving a life sentence in Pakistan for blasphemy.