Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy freed in Pakistan

Associated Press

ISLAMABAD (November 8, 2018) — A Christian woman acquitted after eight years on death row in Pakistan for blasphemy was released but her whereabouts in Islamabad on Thursday remained a closely guarded secret in the wake of demands by radical Islamists that she be publicly executed.

Vigilante violence a concern

Bill Bumpas (OneNewsNow.com)

William Stark with International Christian Concern says his sources tell him Asia Bibi has been moved to an unknown facility. "A lot of the people that I'm talking to currently have mentioned that they believe this is a military facility where they can keep her under greater protection," he tells OneNewsNow. (See related story)

There's still a lot of opposition against Bibi, according to Stark. "The greatest threat to Asia and her family and anybody who's been openly involved in her case is the threat of vigilante violence," he explains. "Pakistan has a history of people being involved in high-profile cases like Asia's and being targeted by the country's hardliners for murder."

Stark contends the delay in getting Bibi out of the country is due to the government's concern over possible unrest. "It's more [about] them measuring what sort of backlash is going to happen to them when they do it," he suggests. "As we saw after the acquittal decision being announced, you had three days of protests that essentially shut down the country."

Several countries have already expressed willingness to receive Bibi and her family.

Asia Bibi was with her family and under heavy security after being transferred to the Pakistani capital overnight from her detention facility in southern Punjab, triggering expectations that her departure from the country could be imminent.

The European Parliament has made an offer to protect Bibi and her family but for the moment she was still in Pakistan, according to two people close to her. They spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to endanger Bibi’s life.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry confirmed later on Thursday that Bibi was still 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.

Following her acquittal, the hard-line Tehreek-e-Labbaik Party forced a country-wide shut down as their supporters took to the streets for three days to protest Bibi’s release.

Scores of protesters were arrested for damaging vehicles and property during the rallies and bank accounts of some of the leaders of the party were reportedly frozen.

The rallies only dispersed after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government promised a court would review a motion to challenge the acquittal and deny Bibi permission to leave Pakistan.

Critics immediately accused Khan, who came to power after elections last summer riding in part on an Islamist agenda, of capitulating to the radicals.

Bibi’s release, her high-security transfer to Islamabad and her likely departure raised the prospect that Khan’s “promises” to the Islamists could have been an effort to buy time. The government, however, has not openly declared Bibi was free to leave the country.

The radical Tehreek-e-Labbaik, in a widely circulated video message, said it received government assurances following Bibi’s relocation to Islamabad that she wouldn’t leave the country until the review petition was heard.

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