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Government Denies Christian Freed From Death Row Has Left Pakistan

Asia Bibi
Asia Bibi

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry has denied reports that Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was acquitted of blasphemy last week, has left the country.

Bibi was freed from prison on November 7, according to her lawyer, Saiful Mulook, and the president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani.

"Asia Bibi has left the prison and has been transferred to a safe place!" Tajani tweeted on November 7. "I thank the Pakistani authorities. I look forward meeting her and her family, in the European Parliament as soon as possible."

Mulook was quoted as saying Bibi was being flown out of Pakistan with her immediate family but he did not know where they were going.

But Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal told the media on November 8. "There is no truth in reports of her leaving the country -- it is fake news."

Unidentified security officials said Bibi was released from a prison in Multan, a city in southern Punjab Province, and was flown to an undisclosed location in Islamabad for fear of attacks on her, according to the Associated Press and Reuters.

Bibi, whose real name is Aasiya Noreen, had spent eight years on death row for allegedly insulting Islam's Prophet Muhammad before the Supreme Court overturned her conviction on October 31, triggering violent protests by hard-line Islamists calling for her execution.

In a deal with the hard-line Tehrik-e Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party that ended the protests, the government on November 3 indicated that it would bar Bibi from traveling abroad pending a "review" of the Supreme Court's decision to acquit her.

Bibi, a mother of five, has denied the blasphemy charges against her.

Her husband, Ashiq Masih, has pleaded for asylum from Western countries, saying his family was in great danger in Pakistan. Her lawyer, Mulook, has fled to the Netherlands.

On November 6, Italian officials said they were working to help relocate Bibi to a country where she and her family would be safe from death threats.

"We are working with other Western countries. We must do it discreetly and carefully," Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini told an Italian radio station.

Insulting Islam is punishable by death in Pakistan, and the mere rumor of blasphemy can lead to lynchings by mobs.

With reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, and the BBC
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