Pakistan’s federal government confirmed on Tuesday it had begun the bureaucratic process to place Asia Bibi, a Christian mother recently acquitted of blasphemy, on a travel ban list, leaving her vulnerable to murder by violent Islamist mobs.
Bibi was sentenced to death in 2010 after two Muslim women accused her of drinking out of the same cup of water as them and then allegedly insulting Muhammad. The Pakistani penal code mandates death for the crime of disparaging Muhammad personally. Last week, Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted her of all charges, asserting that no evidence exists against her and that those who lied about Bibi, not Bibi herself, were guilty of blasphemy.
Following days of violent riots shutting down Pakistan’s major cities, the Pakistani government came to an agreement with the radical Islamist Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party to accept yet another appeal on Bibi’s case and process her as a flight risk, preventing her from accepting asylum abroad.
Federal Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Noorul Haq Qadri confirmed that the process to keep Bibi from leaving to a safe country had begun on Tuesday.
“When there are cases in the Supreme Court and high court, the court itself says that so-and-so should be placed on the [Exit Control List] ECL. So we will follow that process,” Qadri said. “If you read the agreement, you’ll see it says that legal process will be undertaken to place her on the ECL.”
He insisted that the executive branch had no control over whether Bibi would lose her ability to leave the country or be granted full freedom – that decision was strictly judiciary.
Qadri added that the “miscreants” who vandalized and destroyed property in the nation’s biggest cities seeking to force the government to hang her “will be acted upon,” without elaborating. He noted that, despite the TLP’s role in calling for nationwide riots that prevented schools and businesses from opening for days, there are no plans to ban the political party.
The federal government did begin what it is calling a “crackdown” targeting individuals who vandalized public property, the Minister of State for Interior announced Tuesday, according to the Pakistan Express Tribune.
“I respect the religious scholars who said they were not involved in the damage and that some miscreants were doing this. The interior ministry is taking steps to identify those miscreants,” Shehryar Afridi had said on Saturday. By Tuesday, Thousands of individuals were facing criminal charges for blocking roads and rioting generally, with the largest number of registered individuals facing charges in Faisalabad.
“The interior ministry has been given a task to devise a comprehensive strategy to ensure that no violent protests take place on roads and common people’s lives and properties are protected,” Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry clarified on Monday. “All provincial governments are required to compensate the damages caused to common people’s properties and physical injuries.”
The TLP has reiterated threats since these charges arose of restarting the riots if Asia Bibi is fully acquitted or allowed to leave the country.
“The TLP will again be on the roads, with full zeal for martyrdom. The leadership and workers of the party are not afraid of anybody. All workers should start preparatory meetings as they can be told any moment to hit the roads. Ultimately, the truth will prevail,” TLP patron-in-chief Pir Mohammad Afzal Qadri said on Monday. The government has taken no actions against those inciting Muslim men to attain “martyrdom” in the process of rioting for Bibi’s death.
Should the government prevent Bibi from leaving the country, she faces countless death threats from the thousands who participated in the mobs. While, had the government chosen to execute her capital punishment, Bibi would have been the first person executed for blasphemy in modern Pakistan, her death at the hands of a mob would not be uncommon.
Among the most violent episodes in recent memory was the mob lynching of Shahzad Masih and Shama Bibi in 2014. The Christian couple worked at a kiln, where they owed the owner a significant amount of money. The couple was accused of burning pages of the Quran, a claim for which no evidence existed. When police tried to protect them, a mob of hundreds abducted police officers, beat the couple to death, and burned them in their kiln while chanting “allahu akbar” and “kill the infidel Christians.” It took two years for Pakistan’s court system to process the case.
In a more recent case, 23-year-old student Mohammad Mashal Khan was beaten and shot to death in the city of Mardan in 2017 after rumors suggested that he had blasphemed against Islam. Police said they found no evidence that Khan had done so and arrested 22 people in connection with the mob killing.
Asia Bibi and her family are currently seeking asylum in a Western nation, hoping to find a country that will expedite the process so that she can leave before Pakistan imposes its travel ban.