The Hague (AFP) – The Pakistani lawyer who saved a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy from death row said Monday that the UN and EU made him leave the country “against my wishes” because he was a “prime target.”
Saif-ul-Malook, who has fled to the Netherlands, said he contacted a United Nations official in Islamabad after Islamist violence erupted following the Pakistani Supreme Court’s acquittal of Asia Bibi on Wednesday.
“And then they (the UN) and the European nation ambassadors in Islamabad, they kept me for three days and then put me on a plane against my wishes,” the lawyer told a press conference in The Hague.
“I pressed them that I would not leave the country unless I get Asia out of the prison… I am not happy to be here without her, but everybody said that you are the prime target at the moment and the whole world is taking care of Asia Bibi.
“They were of the view that I was the prime target to be killed, and that my life was in imminent danger. For three days they did not let me open the door, one day I called the French ambassador and said I do not want to be here.”
The lawyer had previously told AFP before his departure on Saturday that he was leaving because “in the current scenario, it’s not possible for me to live in Pakistan”.
Malook arrived in The Hague at the weekend after a short stopover in Rome, with the help of the HVC Foundation, a Dutch group that focuses on the human rights of Christian minorities.
Asia Bibi spent nearly a decade on death row after being accused of blasphemy following a dispute with fellow villagers over drinking from the same bowl of water. The charge is an inflammatory one in Muslim-majority Pakistan.
– ‘Face-saving exercise’ –
But she remains in Pakistan after Prime Minister Imran Khan struck a deal with the Islamist hardliners behind the protests to bar her from leaving until a final court appeal is heard.
Former cricket legend Khan has faced accusations of a capitulation to ultra-conservative Islamists who called for the assassination of the country’s Supreme Court justices and mutiny against the army’s top brass in the ruling’s wake.
Khan’s first wife, British activist and filmmaker Jemima Khan, joined the chorus chiding the premier for backing down, saying his administration had effectively signed Bibi’s “death warrant.”
Malook dismissed the deal as a “face-saving” exercise for the hardliners from the Tehreek-e-Labaik party and insisted that Asia Bibi would “100 percent” be freed soon.
“This compromise is nothing but a piece of paper that can be thrown in the dustbin,” he said.
“The government cannot enter into any such agreement with anybody.”
It was not clear whether Bibi had had any firm offers of asylum if she does leave Pakistan, added the lawyer, who said he was “legally authorised” to choose a country for her.
Her husband has pleaded for international help to leave the country.
– Paris mayor offer –
The lawyer said a UN official in Pakistan told him “we are taking care of her” but that “when I said which country, they said we can’t say.
“I asked the French ambassador ‘would your country be willing to offer asylum to Asia Bibi. He said if you request us legally, I said ‘OK I request her’.”
Italian authorities had meanwhile apologised to him after he was held for several hours at Rome airport, Malook said.
The mayor of Paris on Monday said she was “ready to welcome” Asia Bibi to Paris and urged the French government to intervene with Islamabad.
“France has a duty to help her and her family by intervening with the Pakistani government so that she is allowed to gain asylum in another country where she will be safe and completely free to practise her religion,” Mayor Anne Hidalgo told AFP.
The EU gave no initial response to the lawyer’s comments, but earlier called on Pakistan to “take the necessary measures to ensure the safety of any Pakistani citizen, including of course Ms Bibi,” European Commission spokesman Carlos Martin Ruiz De Gordejuela told a daily briefing.
There was no immediate reaction from the UN.