ISLAMABAD: Aasia Bibi, the Christian woman acquitted after eight years on death row for blasphemy, plans to leave Pakistan, her family said on Thursday.
The development followed a landmark move by the Supreme Court on Wednesday that overturned the 2010 conviction against her.
Aasia remained at an undisclosed location on Thursday where the 54-year-old mother of five was being held for security reasons, awaiting her formal release, her brother, James Masih said.
Anyone can kill me, fears her lawyer
He said Aasia simply would not be safe in Pakistan. “She has no other option and she will leave the country soon,” he said. Masih would not disclose the country of her destination but both France and Spain have offered asylum.
Aasia’s husband, Ashiq Masih, had returned from Britain with their children in mid-October and was waiting for her to join them, the brother added.
The family is in hiding for fear of attacks by those angry at the court’s ruling, and still waiting to be reunited with Aasia.
“You know my two youngest daughters were below the age of 10 when their mother went away ... They don’t remember spending much time with her,” Ashiq said.
The family has four daughters and one son, he said. “We are thankful to the court that it decided the case considering us human beings instead of any discrimination on the base of faith or religion.” He said Aasia, who is about 50, has not been released from prison pending arrangements for her safety.
“She can’t be safe here,” brother-in-law Nadeem said. “You know what’s going on outside. We want things to settle down before we go ahead for her release.”
With Aasia soon to be free, her family is struggling to make plans. They would prefer to leave the country to be safe, but there are plans in place.
“We haven’t got any contact yet either from Pakistani authorities or anyone from outside,” Nadeem said.
Yet, Ashiq Masih said he would be sad to be forced to leave his homeland. “We’re also part of Pakistan,” he said. “This is our country. We love it.”
Lawyer Saiful Mulook
After saving condemned Christian Aasia Bibi from the gallows, her lawyer says he is facing the wrath of extremists — and wonders who will save him.
But despite the threats against him, Saiful Mulook says he regrets nothing, and will continue his legal fight against intolerance.
“The verdict has shown that the poor, the minorities and the lowest segments of society can get justice in this country despite its shortcomings,” he said after the verdict. “This is the biggest and happiest day of my life.”
Mulook said he feels he is now a sitting duck with no security or escape plan. “I think I have absolutely no safety. No security and I am the easiest target... anybody can kill me,” he said.
The defence of Aasia was just the latest in a long line of controversial cases taken up by the barrister.
In 2011, Mulook was the lead prosecutor against Mumtaz Qadri over the assassination of Punjab governor Salman Taseer.
Qadri — one of Taseer’s bodyguards — gunned down his boss in broad daylight, citing the governor’s calls for reform of the blasphemy laws as his motive.
Mulook said he took on the case as others cowered, fearing reprisals from extremists. His prosecution resulted in the conviction and subsequent execution of Qadri.
Mulook says his life has not been the same since; he rarely socialises, lives in a constant state of hyper-vigilance and has been inundated with threats.
“If you conduct such cases you should be ready for the results and the consequences,” the greying 62-year-old explains.
But Mulook said the risks have been worth the reward.
“I think it’s better to die as a brave and strong man than to die as a mouse and fearful person,” he said.
“I extend my legal help to all people.”
Published in Dawn, November 2nd, 2018