Asia Bibi’s husband appeals to US, UK, Canada for refuge

Days after reports of her being flown out of Pakistan, Asia Bibi, the Christian woman acquitted after spending eight years on death row on charges of blasphemy, it appears is still in the country and her husband has appealed to US President Donald Trump for refuge, citing danger to his family’s lives. Ashiq Masih, Bibi’s husband, whose case has outraged Christians worldwide and been a source of division within Pakistan, also appealed to the United Kingdom and Canada for assistance.

The ultra-right Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) party blocked major roads in Pakistan’s biggest cities for three days, calling for the murder of the Supreme Court judges who acquitted Bibi on Wednesday, and terming Prime Minister Imran Khan and the country’s army chief enemies of Islam. TLP called off the protests late on Friday after striking a deal with the government that could see authorities seek to put Bibi on an ‘exit control list’ barring her from leaving the country and open a review of the verdict in the courts.

Bibi’s whereabouts are unknown, but the TLP has warned the authorities against taking her out of the country. “There will be a war if they send Asia out of country,” TLP leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi said after the deal with the government was reached.

“I am requesting the President of the United States Donald Trump to help us exit from Pakistan,” Masih said in a video recorded by the British Pakistani Christian Association and seen by Reuters. “I also request the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to help us, I also request the Prime Minister of Canada,” he said, while also asking for help on behalf of his brother Jospeh Nadeem who has assisted with Bibi’s case. The US Embassy and British and Canadian High Commissions in Islamabad did not immediately respond to a request to the video.

On Saturday, Bibi’s lawyer Saiful Mulook said he had left Pakistan “to save (my) life from angry mob” and because of fears for the safety of his family.

Bibi was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbours objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim. She always denied having committed blasphemy. Her case caught the attention of then Punjab provincial governor Salman Taseer who spoke in her defense before being assassinated by his bodyguard in 2011. The TLP was founded out of a movement to support Taseer’s assassin, who was hanged in 2016.

Federal minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti was also killed after calling for her release. Islamist parties have characterised Bibi’s release as Pakistan’s government caving into Western demands.

A day after striking a deal with the TLP, the government swung into action as it started a crackdown against the people who vandalised public properties during the protests. Nearly 250 people from across the country were arrested on Sunday on charges of arson, vandalism and violence.

However, Pakistan’s Human Rights minister Shireen Mazari has slammed the government’s surrender before the religious parties. In a series of tweets, Mazari said that the history shows that appeasement never works. “Appeasement to avoid ‘bloodshed’ in a war-weary Europe led to massive bloodshed & destruction in the form of WW II. Appeasement to ‘avoid bloodshed’ sends a dangerous msg to non-state actors & undermines the very concept of democratic peaceful protest.  The State has to enforce Rule of Law, Constitution & stand by state institutions esp when they are targeted. #IStandWithSupremeCourt,” she tweeted. “.. & despite sceptics & beyond despondency I trust PM Khan to deliver on his commitment to Rule of Law, Constitution & defence of state institutions as well as to human rights guaranteed in Constitution - not just in present situation but also on issues like Enforced Disappearances,” she added.