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Attorney: Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi Seeking Asylum in Netherlands

Asia Bibi, on death row since 2010 after a blasphemy charge, was acquitted by the Supreme Court on Wednesday and ordered set free, triggering protests by ultra-conservative Islamists who paralysed Pakistan for three days
British Pakistani Christian Association/AFP Handout

Asia Bibi, a Christian mother recently acquitted by Pakistan’s Supreme Court of a blasphemy conviction that carried a death sentence, is seeking asylum in the Netherlands with her family, her lawyer revealed on Friday.

Saiful Malook, who fled Pakistan this week to the Netherlands and has allegedly hinted that he may also seek political asylum there, revealed that Bibi, her husband, and two daughters are seeking asylum in the Netherlands.

“Last week, a majority of parties in the Dutch Parliament urged the government to temporarily take charge of Ms Bibi and her family after she was acquitted by Pakistan’s Supreme Court of blasphemy charges for which she had been sentenced to death eight years ago,” the Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) reports.

Radical Islamists, mainly linked to anti-blasphemy Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party, have orchestrated riots across the Muslim country and threatened to kill Bibi, her lawyer, and the judges who cleared her on October 31.

“Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi’s lawyer on Friday said he was seeking asylum for his client and her family in The Netherlands amid violent protests in Pakistan by radical Islamists against her acquittal in a blasphemy case,” IANS notes.

“Saif-ul-Malook said he had already spoken with Dutch politicians and ministers, although he was yet to make an official asylum request,” the Agencia EFE news outlet adds.

Citing the Dutch government, IANS reports that an asylum application can only be filed from within the Netherlands, adding that no third parties were allowed to do so on their behalf.

Nevertheless, Bibi’s lawyer told CNN on Thursday that the application for Bibi and her family has already been submitted to the authorities.

On Thursday, authorities reportedly moved Bibi from her jail cell in Pakistan to an undisclosed location in a different part of the country.

The move came after the Pakistani government reached a deal with the Islamist TLP party last Friday to restrict Bibi’s travel while the court deals with petitions to review its acquittal of the Christian mother.

Islamabad has also agreed not to interfere with a TLP petition to add Bibi to a list preventing her from leaving Pakistan, CNN notes.

“Malook said Ms Bibi, her husband and children were under the protection of the [Pakistani] Army and police in the wake of threats from radical Islamists who demanded a public execution, rejecting her acquittal,” IANS points out.

Bibi is now legally free to leave Pakistan, CNN learned from the country’s foreign office.

“She is a free woman now,” Mohammad Faisal declared. “Her writ is being heard. When a decision is made, she will go wherever she wants to go. It is a free country; she is a free national. She can go wherever she wants to go. No one can object to that. If a free national of Pakistan wants to go somewhere, he/she has to get a visa and go. Nothing odd about that.”

Protests spearheaded by TLP Islamists broke out across Pakistan soon after the nation’s supreme court overturned Bibi’s 2010 death penalty verdict for alleged blasphemy.

Spain, France, and Italy have reportedly offered Bibi and her family asylum.

Under Pakistan’s penal code, blasphemy is punishable by death or life imprisonment.

The law is disproportionally used to target Christians and other religious minorities, human rights groups contend.

In 2010, Bibi, a mother of five, was sentenced to hang for allegedly defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammed during an argument a year earlier with some Muslim women.

The accusation stemmed from a dispute in which two Muslim women insulted Bibi for taking a drink of water out of what they proclaimed to be a “Muslim cup.”

Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law is often used to settle personal disputes and vendettas, according to human rights groups.

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