Family of Christian Woman Acquitted in Pakistan Seeks Asylum in Europe

Family of Christian Woman Acquitted in Pakistan Seeks Asylum in Europe

The husband of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman acquitted for blasphemy after eight years on death row, says it is not safe for the family to remain in Pakistan and has applied for asylum in Europe.

Ashiq Masih told VOA Urdu Service that the family has requested asylum in Spain and France, and is waiting for a response.

He said his wife has not been allowed to return home following last week's landmark decision by Pakistan's Supreme Court to overturn her 2010 conviction for insulting Islam's Prophet Muhammad.

The acquittal sparked three days of widespread protests by Islamists who demanded that Bibi's death sentence be reinstated. Members of the militant Islamist group Tehreek e-Labbaik ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) blocked main roads in Pakistan's largest cities and called for the deaths of the Supreme Court judges who acquitted Bibi.

A government team negotiated a deal to end the protests, agreeing to take "legal measures" to prevent Bibi from leaving the country while the Supreme Court hears a petition against the verdict.

Masih said he has not been able to contact his wife, and said he does not know where she is being held.

He said despite the end of the protests, the security risks for his family continue unabated. He said his children are in a state of fear.

Masih said even the security staff posted outside his home is a threat to the family because their presence could let others know where the family's house is located.

On Monday, the militant Islamist group Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) vowed revenge for the Supreme Court acquittal and urged Muslims to wage jihad. The threat was reported by the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist threats and communications.

Bibi's lawyer, Saiful Mulook, has already left Pakistan due to the security concerns.

Mulook told Reuters in a WhatsApp message that he had gone to another country "just to save [my] life from [an] angry mob" and because of fears for the safety of his family. "I consulted, and everybody is of this opinion [that I should leave]."

He added that he would return to the country to continue his work on the case if he is given protection by security forces.

Masih said he is concerned that the lawyer has already fled the country, saying that if an appeal against the Supreme Court ruling goes forward there will be no one to plead his wife's case.

According to Bibi, she was falsely accused after a heated argument with other women who refused to drink water she had given them because she was Christian.

During the protests following Bibi's acquittal, Pakistan's government banned television coverage of the demonstrations and suspended cellphone service in several cities to contain the crowds. Schools across the country were closed, and many workers stayed home.

In the United States, Bibi's acquittal has provided a sense of hope for Christians of Pakistani origin. A church in the city of Detroit arranged a special prayer session on Sunday to mark the acquittal. Father Shafiq told VOA Urdu Service that this was the first court decision that went in favor of the minority community in Pakistan, which consoled the Christian community as a whole. He said the community has been praying for the judges who gave the verdict.

Source: Voice of America