A fortnight ago Asia Bibi, a woman on death row on charges of blasphemy was acquitted by Pakistan’s Supreme Court after spending eight years in jail. But that was not to be the end of her nightmares.
Her acquittal has been vociferously opposed by right-wing clerics and their supporters in Pakistan and fatwas have been issued calling for her death. The judgement brought protesters onto the streets who blocked highways and set vehicles on fire.
Soon after the judgement Asia Bibi’s lawyer was forced to flee the country as he too faced death threats. Saiful Mulook was granted temporary asylum in the Netherlands.
Bibi was whisked away by security officials into state-provided protection but her family too is being threatened and hunted. Bibi’s lawyer, relatives and supporters have appealed for the family to be given asylum in another country.
John Pontifex, with the Christian group Aid to the Church in Need UK (ACN), which has supported Bibi’s case, said “They have told me that mullahs had been reported in their neighbourhood going from house to house showing photos of family members on their phones, trying to hunt them down,” he told the Guardian.
“The family have had to move from place to place to avoid detection. Sometimes they can only operate after sundown. They have had to cover their faces when they go out in public. They have had to remove the rosary that hangs from their car rear-view mirror for fear of attack.”
Bibi, a labourer, was accused by her Muslim villagers of insulting the prophet Muhammad in a row over drinking water from the same well. The Supreme Court judgment which acquitted her said there was no evidence to support the charge. Bibi’s case highlights the complete dominance of right-wing religious organisations in Pakistan’s public life.
Canada, Spain and France have reportedly offered asylum to Bibi and her immediate family. Germany and Italy are also in talks with Pakistan on the issue.