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Christian Woman Acquitted Of Blasphemy Banned From Leaving Pakistan, As Lawyer Flees

Supporters of Pakistani radical groups burn a poster of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in the southern city of Karachi on November 2.
Supporters of Pakistani radical groups burn a poster of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in the southern city of Karachi on November 2.

A Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy has been banned from leaving Pakistan pending a judicial review of her acquittal.

The ban is part of a deal between the government and a hard-line party behind nationwide protests that brought the country to a standstill for days.

The protests ended after the government agreed to the demands by the Tehrik-e Labaik Pakistan party (TLP) to review the acquittal of 54-year-old mother of four Asia Bibi.

Pakistan's Supreme Court on October 31 overturned a blasphemy conviction for Bibi, a Roman Catholic who spent eight years on death row.

Pir Ijaz Qadri, a spokesman for the TLP, has said the party is calling off sit-ins by thousands of protesters in major cities that for three days had blocked major highways and caused gridlock across the country.

Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri said on November 3 that Bibi will now be prevented from leaving the country until the Supreme Court makes a final review of its verdict.

The court said there was insufficient evidence that Bibi had committed blasphemy, an offense punishable by death in Pakistan.

The court decision drew praise from Christians and rights activists around the world, but angered hard-line Muslims.

No judicial execution for blasphemy has ever occurred in Pakistan, but 20 of those charged were murdered.

People like Bibi who are charged with blasphemy but later freed have had to flee the country for their safety.

Christians make up only about 2 percent of Pakistan's population and are sometimes discriminated against.

Meanwhile, Saif-ul-Mulook, Bibi's lawyer, left the country on November 3, saying his life was under threat.

"In the current scenario, it's not possible for me to live in Pakistan," the lawyer said before boarding a plane to Europe.​

Asia Bibi
Asia Bibi

"I need to stay alive as I still have to fight the legal battle for Asia Bibi," he said.

On November 2, protesters chanted "hang the blasphemer" and "hang the judges" as they marched through the capital, Islamabad.

The TLP held sit-ins in cities across the country, with supporters blocking major traffic thoroughfares, causing gridlock and school closures in key hubs like Lahore, Islamabad, and Karachi.

TLP supporters as far away as Swat and Bannu in Pakistan's northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province turned out by the hundreds to protest the court decision.

TLP, founded in 2015, blockaded Islamabad for several weeks last year calling for stricter enforcement of Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws.

Approximately 40 people are believed to be on death row or serving a life sentence in Pakistan for blasphemy, according to a 2018 report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

At least 1,472 people were charged under Pakistan's blasphemy laws between 1987 and 2016, according to the Lahore-based Center for Social Justice. It said Muslims constituted a majority of those prosecuted, followed by members of the Ahmadi, Christian, and Hindu minorities.

Rights groups say the laws are increasingly exploited by religious extremists as well as ordinary Pakistanis to settle personal scores.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters