Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who was acquitted of a blasphemy charge on October 31, was freed from prison on Thursday, The Guardian reported. Protests had erupted in Pakistan following Bibi’s acquittal and she continued to remain in prison while the government negotiated with the protestors.
Bibi was taken to Islamabad from Multan’s women’s prison on a special aircraft late on Wednesday night, Dawn reported, quoting unidentified officials. She was then taken to an undisclosed place in Islamabad and will remain in protective custody.
Bibi’s husband and children have been living in a secret location in Pakistan since the protests broke out. Ashiq Masih, her husband, has made repeated appeals to the international community to help provide them asylum.
The Italian government on Tuesday said it would help Bibi leave the country. “I want women and children whose lives are at risk to be able to have a secure future, in our country or in other Western countries,” Reuters quoted Italian Prime Minister Matteo Salvini as saying. “So I will do everything humanly possible to guarantee that [for Bibi]. It is not permissible that in 2018 someone can risk losing their life for a…hypothesis of blasphemy.” Salvini said his government was working “discreetly” with other Western countries on the matter.
Authorities have said Bibi may not be able to leave the country as a review petition against her acquittal has been filed by a radical Islamist lawyer. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday confirmed that Bibi was still in the country. “There is no truth in reports of her leaving the country – it is fake news,” said its spokesperson Mohammad Faisal.
Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry also criticised the media for running reports of Bibi having left the country without confirmation. “It has become a norm to publish fake news for sake of headlines,” Chaudhry said on Twitter. “Asia Bibi case is sensitive issue; it was extremely irresponsible to publish news of her leaving the country without confirmation.”
Bibi’s lawyer Saiful Mulook fled to the Netherlands last week fearing for his family’s safety.
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 drunk water because she was Christian. Bibi later acknowledged using “hot words” during the ensuing argument but insisted that she never said anything blasphemous.
A trial court sentenced her to death for blasphemy in 2010. She moved the Supreme Court against a 2014 Lahore High Court order that upheld the trial court’s decision. Bibi has spent most of the last eight years in solitary confinement.