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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

Asia Bibi leaves Pakistan after blasphemy death sentence reversed

Christian woman’s release prompted anger from hard-line Islamists, who have threatened to paralyse daily life

Supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami protest after the Supreme Court acquitted Asia Bibi. EPA
Supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami protest after the Supreme Court acquitted Asia Bibi. EPA

A Pakistani Christian woman has been freed from prison a week after the country's Supreme Court overturned her conviction and death sentence for blasphemy against Islam.

Asia Bibi took a flight to an unknown destination, according to the BBC’s Urdu service.

The release of Ms Bibi, a mother of five, prompted immediate anger from a hard-line Islamist party that has threatened to paralyse daily life countrywide with street protests if her acquittal is not reversed.

Ms Bibi, 53, was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 over allegations she made 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.

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The case has outraged Christians worldwide, and Pope Francis met with her family earlier this year, saying he prayed for her. Italy had said on Tuesday it will try to help Ms Bibi, who is Catholic, to leave Pakistan.

Insulting the Prophet Mohammed carries a mandatory death penalty in Pakistan, which is about 95 per cent Muslim and has some of the harshest blasphemy laws in the world. Minority Christians make up about 2 per cent of the population.

Three security officials told Reuters early on Thursday that Bibi had been released from a prison in Multan, a city in the southern Punjab province.

She was flown to the airport near the capital, Islamabad, but was in protective custody because of threats to her life, said the three officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Bibi’s lawyer, who has fled Pakistan and this week sought asylum in the Netherlands, confirmed she was no longer in prison.

“All I can tell you is that she has been released,” Saif-ul-Mulook told Reuters by phone from the Netherlands.

A spokesman for the hard-line Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) party, which took to the streets after the Supreme Court ruling, said her release violated a deal with the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan to end the protests.

“The TLP activists are agitated as the government has breached the agreement with our party. The rulers have showed their dishonesty,” party spokesman Ejaz Ashrafi said.

The government deal last week promised not to block a petition for the Supreme Court to review Bibi’s acquittal in light of Sharia, the TLP said. It also said the government promised to work to ensure Bibi could not leave the country.

If Pakistan’s government allows Bibi to leave, it could face more paralysing protests from the TLP and other Islamist parties.