The joy over the acquittal of Asia Bibi lasted barely 24 hours. The Christian mother of five from Pakistan was forced to spend eight years in prison, much of the time on death row, ostensibly for “blasphemy,” before the Supreme Court cleared her of any offense.
“I can’t believe what I am hearing, will I go out now? Will they let me out, really?”, Asia Bibi said by phone after the historic sentence, according to AFP news agency.
Unfortunately, massive street protests by extremist Muslims immediately erupted to pressure the government to delay her release. The phone network in some areas was suspended for reasons of “security”. Rioting caused schools in Islamabad, Punjab and Kashmir to close. Roads were blocked, paralyzing parts of Islamabad, Lahore and other cities. Christian schools warned parents to come and get their children for fear of violence. Churches were put on high alert. Protesters hold placards that read: “Hang Asia Bibi“.
“There will be a war if they send Asia out of country,” warned Khadim Hussain Rizvi, leader of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), an Islamist party that supports blasphemy laws.
Threats by vigilante mobs who called for her death and warned of national unrest evidently worked. Pakistan’s government, after saying it would begin the process of preventing Asia Bibi from leaving the country, has now been accused of signing her “death warrant“.
The government apparently succumbed to pressure and signed an agreement giving in to many of the demands of Tehreek-e-Labbaik. Pakistan’s government also promised not to oppose a legal petition to reverse Asia Bibi’s release, and to put her name on the “exit control list” (ELC), a no-fly list, to prevent her from leaving the country.
“Placing Asia Bibi on the ECL is like signing her death warrant”, said Wilson Chowdhry of the British Pakistani Christian Association.
The agreement,” tweeted analyst Mosharraf Zaidi, “was a “historic capitulation“.
“It’s almost certain that Bibi will not be able to live in the country after her acquittal”, the famous Pakistani novelist Mohammed Hanif wrote in The New York Times.
“[B]arring her from leaving the country grants tacit permission to Tehreek-i-Labaik to hunt her down and murder her,” wrote Robert Spencer, a human rights activist and author of 18 books that include New York Times bestsellers.
Asia Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih, just applied for asylum in the United States, Canada and England. “I am requesting the Prime Minister of the UK help us and as far as possible grant us freedom”, he said. “I am requesting the president of the United States, Donald Trump, to help us exit from Pakistan”, he added. That is why the pact between the Islamists and the government is seen as a betrayal. “The agreement has sent a shiver down my spine”, Masih said. “The current situation is very dangerous for us. We have no security and are hiding here and there, frequently changing our location”.
Meanwhile, Asia Bibi’s fate remains “uncertain“.