Asia Bibi’s lawyer says she should leave Pakistan amid protests

The lawyer of Christian woman Asia Bibi, who was acquitted of blasphemy charges by the Supreme Court, on Thursday said that his client should leave Pakistan for her safety amid widespread protests by radical Islamist groups, a day after her death sentence was annulled.

“She is not safe in Pakistan and she will have to leave the country,” Saif-ul-Malook told Efe news, adding that he might also have to leave the country to protect himself.

The apex court ruling on Wednesday set off violent protests and sit-ins by hardliners who support strong blasphemy laws. Radical Islamist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) called for the death of the judges who passed the verdict.

The hardliners continued to protest and block highways for the second consecutive day in Pakistan.

The Christian woman’s lawyer said that she had not been released from Multan prison yet and the process could take many days, the report said.

“I don’t know where she goes,” said Malook, when asked about possible countries where his client could seek refuge.

Despite having two bodyguards, Malook said he feared for his own life too. “I don’t regret defending Asia, but I am scared. I don’t think I am safe in Pakistan.”

In major cities such as Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad, members of the TLP continued to block highways, despite Prime Minister Imran Khan warning them not to confront the state, Dawn online reported.

Around 250 protesters blocked the main entry to the capital on the highway connecting Islamabad with Rawalpindi. The protesters burned tyres and also cut off a number of other roads and highways connecting Islamabad to other parts of the country.

In Lahore, stick-wielding protesters chanting religious slogans outside the Punjab police chief’s office attacked policemen in riot gear who were attempting to disperse the agitators.

The demonstrators resisted the police personnel and some attacked officials, after which the policemen resorted to baton-charging the protesters, reports say.

The railway network in Lahore suffered disruptions due to protests and suspension of mobile signals.

Educational institutions remained closed on Thursday in the provinces of Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Asia Bibi, a mother of five, was accused by two women of insulting Prophet Muhammad in 2009 and a court sentenced her to death in 2010.

Bibi maintained her innocence, but spent most of the past eight years in solitary confinement.

The Prime Minister defended the top court’s judgment in a televised address, saying it was in accordance with the Constitution and appealed to the protesters not to challenge the state.

At least two public figures — former Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and minority minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian — were assassinated in 2011 for supporting Bibi and opposing the blasphemy law.

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