Asia Bibi blasphemy case: Husband pleads for asylum
The husband of a Pakistani Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy after eight years on death row has pleaded for asylum from the UK, US or Canada.
Asia Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih, said they were in great danger in Pakistan.
The Supreme Court overturned Asia Bibi’s conviction on Wednesday, saying the case against her was based on flimsy evidence.
Her acquittal sparked violent protests, and the government has now agreed to try to stop her leaving the country.
On Saturday, her lawyer, Saif Mulook, fled Pakistan, saying he feared for his life.
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Asia Noreen – commonly known as Asia Bibi – was convicted in 2010 of insulting the Prophet Muhammad during a row with neighbours.
Several countries have offered her asylum.
What does her husband say?
In a video message, Mr Masih said he feared for his family’s safety.
“I am requesting the prime minister of the UK help us and as far as possible grant us freedom,” he said.
He also called on Canadian and US leaders for help.
Earlier, in an interview with German broadcaster DW, he said he and his family were “frightened” after Pakistan’s authorities struck a deal with the hardline Tehreek-i-Labaik (TLP) party in order to end protests over Asia Bibi’s acquittal.
As part of the agreement, officials will start proceedings to bar her from leaving the country.
The government will also not prevent protesters legally challenging the Supreme Court decision to release her.
“The agreement has sent a shiver down my spine,” Mr Masih told DW. “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.”
He added: “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.”
UK MP Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee in Parliament, said he had asked the Home Office for an “urgent evaluation of the situation”, the Guardian reported.
Violence against minorities is unacceptable. The treatment of Asia Bibi is vile. @ImranKhanPTI has a decision to make: will he stand for the rule of law or mob rule? Time for leadership, Imran. #AsiaBibiCase#Pakistan
— Tom Tugendhat (@TomTugendhat) November 3, 2018
End of Twitter post by @TomTugendhat
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Information Minister Fawad Chaudry told the BBC that security had been “beefed up” to protect Asia Bibi.
“Yes, there is a situation and we are dealing with it, but I assure you that her life is not in danger,” he told the BBC’s Newshour programme.
He described the government’s deal with the protesters as “firefighting”, saying it helped to “resolve the situation without resorting to violence”.
What was Asia Bibi accused of?
The trial stems from an argument Asia Bibi had with a group of women in June 2009.
They were harvesting fruit when a row broke out about a bucket of water. The women said that because she had used a cup, they could no longer touch it, as her faith had made it unclean.
Prosecutors alleged that in the row which followed, the women said Asia Bibi should convert to Islam and that she made offensive comments about the Prophet Muhammad in response.
She was later beaten up at her home, during which her accusers say she confessed to blasphemy. She was arrested after a police investigation.
In Wednesday’s ruling, the Supreme Court said that the case was based on unreliable evidence and her confession was delivered in front of a crowd “threatening to kill her”.
Why is this case so divisive?
Islam is Pakistan’s national religion and underpins its legal system. Public support for the strict blasphemy laws is strong.
Hard-line politicians have often backed severe punishments, partly as a way of shoring up their support base.
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But critics say the laws have often been used to get revenge after personal disputes, and that convictions are based on thin evidence.
The vast majority of those convicted are Muslims or members of the Ahmadi community, but since the 1990s scores of Christians have been convicted. They make up just 1.6% of the population.
The Christian community has been targeted by numerous attacks in recent years, leaving many feeling vulnerable to a climate of intolerance.
Since 1990, at least 65 people have reportedly been killed in Pakistan over claims of blasphemy.