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Pakistan may review Bibi acquittal, forbids travel

LAHORE, Pakistan (BP) — Christian mother Asia Bibi’s freedom is once again in jeopardy, just days after Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted her of blasphemy and freed her from death row.

The government is allowing her detractors to request a review of the Oct. 31 acquittal and are forbidding Bibi to flee the country, the Guardian reported Nov. 2. Angry mobs of thousands in several cities are demanding her death.

While Bibi’s exact location remains undisclosed, the government essentially signed Bibi’s death warrant by forbidding her international travel, her supporters said. The nation was said to be paralyzed by street mobs for three days after the verdict, inciting fears of civil war.

Bibi supporter Maulana Sami ul Haq was stabbed to death Nov. 2 at his home in Rawalpindi, according to World Watch Monitor. He became the first high-profile Bibi supporter to be killed since 2011. The mullah was among leading voices calling for Bibi’s release during her eight-year ordeal.

Christians in the 96-percent Muslim country of about 200 million are in heightened danger, international religious freedom advocates say.

Schools were forced to close, flights were delayed and trains were forced to change their routes amid unrest, Morning Star News said Nov. 5. The government reportedly shut down cellular and internet networks in several cities to hamper protests. The announcement of a possible verdict review was deemed the government’s attempt to placate protestors largely led by Islamic extremists Tehreek-e-Labbaik, Morning Star said.

Bibi attorney Saif ul-Malook, who fled Pakistan Nov. 3 reportedly for his life, told World Watch Monitor Nov. 5 there is no legal basis for a review of Bibi’s acquittal.

“There is no new ground available to challenge this decision,” World Watch quoted Malook. “I expect the review petition will not be allowed because it will be declared infructuous (unfruitful).” Malook told World Watch he would return to the country to defend Bibi if the review is allowed.

Bibi is still imprisoned, Malook told Morning Star, although the 30-day review process does not require such detention. Largely known as Asia Bibi, the Catholic mother’s formal name is Aasiya Noreen.

Bibi’s husband Masih has applied for asylum for the family, petitioning countries including the United States, Great Britain and Canada, the Guardian reported. The British Pakistani Christian Association, supporting the asylum request, told the Guardian Nov. 3 it was “incredible” no government had stepped forward to help.

Masih requested asylum by video from a safe house, according to news reports.

Bibi was sentenced to death by hanging in 2010 on charges of insulting the prophet Mohammad while working in a field as a day laborer in 2009. When Bibi offered a coworker a cup of water, the woman said Bibi’s Christianity made the water ceremonially unclean. This set off a chain of false accusations related to Bibi’s beliefs and backed by Muslim clerics. Bibi refused to convert to Islam and was accused of insulting the prophet Muhammad.

Pakistani Christian leaders have urged Christians there to pray and “offer themselves to public service” as Bibi is released, Open Doors USA reported upon her acquittal.

Pakistan is the fifth most dangerous country for Christians, Open Doors said in its 2018 Watch List.

“They endure persecution from both the state and society,” Open Doors has said. “Radical Islamist groups see them as apostates; and their family, friends and neighbors see their conversion as shameful to the community.

“As a result, many Muslims refuse to drink and eat with them for fear of being defiled.”

Read BP’s earlier story.