Prime Minister Imran Khan this week reiterated his support for the Pakistani Supreme Court’s acquittal of Asia Bibi, reaffirming Islamabad’s resolve to respect the decision to rescind the Christian mother’s 2010 death penalty verdict for allegedly committing blasphemy against Islam.
Khan’s comments came as his administration continues to prevent Bibi from leaving the country even after the Supreme Court ordered her to be freed from prison on November 7 and flown to “a safe place.”
France, Italy, Spain, and Canada have reportedly offered Bibi and her family asylum. Bibi’s lawyer also revealed that she is seeking asylum in the Netherlands.
The state-run Pakistan Radio reported:
Talking to President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani who telephoned him on Tuesday, he called for enhanced dialogue as well as cooperation for promoting inter-cultural and inter-faith harmony.
The Prime Minister reaffirmed the Government’s resolve to respect the judgment of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, and said as citizens of Pakistan, Asia Bibi and her family are entitled to all rights as guaranteed by the Constitution of Pakistan … Antonio Tajani thanked the Prime Minister for ensuring safety and security of Asia Bibi and her family.
The EU Parliament’s chief wrote on Twitter that Khan had “assured [him] that Aasia Bibi and her family are safe and well”.
“We fully agreed on the need to respect all religions, everywhere in the world,” he added.
I spoke to the Prime Minister of Pakistan @ImranKhanPTI. He assured me that Asia Bibi and her family are safe and well. We fully agreed on the need to respect all religions, everywhere in the world. pic.twitter.com/hdUB8HAaBX
— Antonio Tajani (@EP_President) November 13, 2018
The telephone conversation came after the Khan administration reached a deal last Friday to stop the riots across Pakistan orchestrated by the anti-blasphemy Islamist Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party soon after the Supreme Court cleared Bibi on October 31. Islamists affiliated with TLP have called for the killing of the Christian mother, her lawyer, and the judges who acquitted her.
As part of the agreement — deemed a concession to the Islamists — the Khan administration is preventing Bibi from leaving the country while the Supreme Court reviews petitions filed against the acquittal verdict.
Islamabad has also agreed not to block a TLP petition to add Bibi to a list preventing her from leaving Pakistan.
“Khan agreed to allow a court to review the acquittal, and to work to prevent Bibi from leaving the country,” the Guardian reported. “This was a betrayal of immense proportions since it is clear that her life cannot be protected while she remains in Pakistan.”
The National Catholic Reporter added:
[Bibi’s husband] Ashiq Masih, confirmed in a Nov. 4 telephone interview with BBC World Service that the court had since agreed to accept a review petition questioning the legitimacy of her acquittal…The challenge to Bibi’s freedom has been made by Tehreek-e-Labbaaik, an extremist group which is also putting pressure on the government to try to stop Bibi from leaving Pakistan, even if her acquittal is upheld.
Currently, Islamabad is unable to guarantee Bibi’s safety without keeping her under custody. Bibi already spent nearly eight years incarcerated on death row before her acquittal.
On Thursday, Pakistani authorities moved her to an undisclosed location last Thursday, fearing for her safety.
Although Khan defended Pakistan’s blasphemy laws while on the campaign trail this summer, the PM has repeatedly voiced his support for the supreme court’s acquittal verdict.
“There will be no compromise on the decision of the Supreme Court of Pakistan,” Khan declared last Saturday, according to the Washington Times. “If a government does not stand by the decisions of the court, the country cannot survive.”
The Times observed:
Mr. Khan is facing pressure from an unanticipated source as Islamist groups react with fury to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the death sentence of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy eight years ago who is now in hiding. The prime minister is under competing pressures over whether to allow Ms. Bibi to leave the country, something that could provoke religious extremists even more.
Human rights groups have determined Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws are used to target Christians and other religious minorities disproportionally.