Friend: Christian woman freed by court transferred south

ISLAMABAD — The Christian woman freed by Pakistan’s Supreme Court three months after acquitting her on a blasphemy charge has been transferred from her previous location near the capital by security forces, unable to leave Pakistan to join her daughters in Canada, a friend said Saturday.

Aman Ullah, who said he spoke to Aasia Bibi by telephone Friday, said the 54-year-old Bibi is being held in a room in southern Karachi. He said Bibi, who spent eight years on death row, is frustrated and frightened, uncertain of when she will be able to leave Pakistan.

“She has no indication of when she will leave … they are not telling her why she cannot leave,” said Ullah, who fled the country Friday after receiving threats from religious radicals angered by his assistance to Bibi, which began while she was on death row.

Ullah has been a liaison between Bibi and European diplomats, who have sought to assist her. The Associated Press also spoke to Bibi by telephone following her October acquittal with the assistance of Ullah.

Bibi’s ordeal began in 2009 when two fellow farmworkers refused to drink from the same container as a Christian woman. There was a quarrel and the two Muslim women later accused Bibi of blasphemy. The Supreme Court on Oct. 31 last year, however, acquitted Bibi and last month the high court rejected an appeal by a radical religious party to review her acquittal. The Supreme Court judges charged there were widespread inconsistencies in the testimony against Bibi saying had the case not been so sensitive the accusers would face perjury charges. Bibi has steadfastly maintained her innocence.

That court decision should have given Bibi her freedom, but Ullah said diplomats were told that her departure from Pakistan, where she feels her life would be in danger, would come not in the “short term but in the medium term,” said Ullah.

He said Bibi told him she is locked in one room of a house.

“The door opens at food time only,” said Ullah, and she is allowed to make phone calls in the morning and again at night. He said she usually calls her daughters.

There was no immediate response from the government but Bibi’s case has brought international attention to Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law, which carries an automatic death sentence for a conviction of insulting Islam. However, there have been widespread complaints that the law is used to settle scores and that it targets the country’s minorities, including Shiite Muslims.

The mere suggestion of blasphemy can incite mobs to kill. After Bibi’s October acquittal the radical Tehreek-e-Labbaik party called its followers onto the streets where they protested for three days demanding Bibi’s immediate execution as well as the death of the judges who acquitted her. The party leadership also advocated overthrowing the government of Imran Khan and incited the military against the army chief.

Since then the leadership has been arrested along with dozens of their followers for inciting violence.

Ullah, a rights activist, first began aiding those falsely charged with blasphemy when his wife was wrongly accused. Since then, he has helped several people gain their freedom but Bibi’s prominence brought him to the attention of religious radicals.

In recent months, he has been physically assaulted, gunmen have opened fire on his home, and several religious radicals attacked his home. Ullah said he fears being attacked again or charged with blasphemy.

Bibi hopes to be able to join her daughters in Canada, where they have been granted asylum.




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