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Netherlands Sends Pakistani Embassy Staff Home After Receiving Threats

Pakistani lawyer Saiful Mulook
Pakistani lawyer Saiful Mulook

The Netherlands says it has recalled staff from its embassy in Pakistan after receiving threats for providing shelter to the lawyer of a Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy.

"Unfortunately, threats have been made against the Netherlands, Dutch diplomats," Foreign Minister Stef Blok told NPO radio on November 12. He said "a large number of staff" returned to the Netherlands.

The lawyer, Saiful Mulook, cited death threats in fleeing to the Netherlands soon after the Pakistani Supreme Court decision on October 31 acquitting Asia Bibi of blasphemy. The Dutch government said it had offered him temporary shelter.

Hard-line Islamists in Pakistan have blocked streets and called for the killing of several people connected with the Bibi case, including the judges who acquitted her.

Last week, the Dutch Embassy in Pakistan said it had temporarily halted issuing visas "due to circumstances beyond our control."

Also last week, the Netherlands said its ambassador, Ardi Stoios-Braken, faced "threats" in Pakistan over "blasphemous depictions" by right-wing legislator Geert Wilders on Twitter.

Wilders has recently posted images of the Prophet Muhammad on the social network -- something which is considered taboo by Muslims.

Bibi was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 and spent eight years on death row before being acquitted.

The militant Tehrik-e-Labaik (TLP) party took to the streets after her acquittal and blocked main cities and highways for three days.

The protests ended after the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan agreed not to block a petition to review Bibi's case and ensure she doesn't leave the country until the review is completed.

Pakistani officials have said Bibi was released from prison but is in a secure location while the court reconsiders her case.

Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters
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