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Pakistan Officials: Asia Bibi Is Safe, Cannot Receive Travel Ban if Not Convicted of Blasphemy

Thousands of Islamists poured onto the streets in protest after Supreme Court judges overturned Asia Bibi's conviction
AFP/AAMIR QURESHI

Pakistan’s Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Afridi assured those concerned that the government would protect Asia Bibi, a Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy last week, from Islamist mobs who want to kill her and that the government would not ban her from leaving the country if she was not re-convicted.

Authorities arrested Bibi in 2009 for allegedly insulting Muhammad in a dispute with two Muslim coworkers. She was sentenced to death by hanging in 2010. Pakistan’s Supreme Court overturned her conviction a week ago, asserting that no evidence existed for the blasphemy charge and that those who had falsely accused her of the crime were themselves guilty of blasphemy.

In response, the radical Islamist Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party organized thousands-strong riots in major cities demanding the deaths of both Bibi and the Supreme Court justices who acquitted her, resulting in rampant violence and destruction of property. Riots ended on Friday after the government agreed to hear yet another appeal on Bibi’s blasphemy case and begin the legal process to ban her from leaving the country while ordering the TLP to “apologize” for forcing the shutdown of schools and businesses. Government officials confirmed on Wednesday that they had only begun appraising the destruction left behind by the protests.

Bibi’s family have begun applying for asylum in the West, noting that the riots are proof they cannot ensure a safe future for themselves in a country where mobs are demanding their death.

Afridi, in an Urdu-language interview with Voice of America, emphasized that the government cannot officially place Bibi’s name on the Exit Control List (ECL), thus banning her from international travel, without a conviction.

“Unless a person is declared guilty, there is no legal ground ─ how can his or her name be placed on the ECL?” he asked, according to a translation by the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. “There is no question regarding this.”

Afridi’s asserting that she must be convicted to be placed on the list suggested that extensive delays in freeing her may be ahead. The process of convicting her a first time took a year; processing her to be executed had gone on for eight years before her conviction. An appeal over the head of the Supreme Court, the court of last resort in Pakistan, would likely necessitate a significant amount of time.

During that time, Afridi, insisted, Bibi would remain safe in prison.

“Every Pakistani, regardless of his creed or religion, is the state’s responsibility. No one in Pakistan can be given a license to play with someone’s life or property in order to get their terms accepted,” Afridi claimed.

Asia Bibi remains in prison, as the government has yet to process her acquittal or the appeal promised to the TLP, which has no basis in Pakistani law.

“Asia Bibi is in Multan jail and has not been released yet. We have not received orders to release her so far,” Zawar Hussain Warraich, minister for prisons in Punjab province, told the Agence France-Press (AFP) on Wednesday. “Normally we receive orders in two days after court judgement and if relatives and lawyers of a prisoner are very active, they can bring it even within a day, but as far as Asia Bibi is concerned, it has not happened yet.”

Bibi’s husband and four children, in the meantime, have launched a global campaign seeking expedited asylum in a Western, Christian-friendly country.

“There is no question that she would not be safe to live in Pakistan,” Edward Clancy of the Christian international nonprofit organization Aid to the Church in Need tells Breitbart News. “As terrible as it is where she is now, she’s almost safer to be in solitary confinement in prison that out in the streets.”

Clancy notes that Aid to the Church in Need has heard from husband Ashiq Masih that the family has struggled to obtain food because leaving the house is dangerous, as Muslim neighbors have called for their deaths. He adds that the Bibi case is not unique, neither to Pakistan nor to much of the world: “Asia Bibi is, in a sense, the face of thousands of others who are in similar situations all over the world.”

Activists and politicians in much of the West – including Canada, France, and Spain – have urged their respective countries to take Bibi in. On Wednesday, Italy became the first country to officially offer asylum. According to Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, the country will do “everything humanly possible” to get Bibi out of Pakistan safely.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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