Asia Bibi freed and flown to 'safe location'

Asia Bibi, the Christian woman who was acquitted last week by Supreme Court in blasphemy case, has been freed from jail and taken to a secure location for fear of attacks, according to News International, quoting Geo News, a private Pakistani TV news channel.

According to reports, soon after her freedom from Multan prison, a small plane arrived in the city, south of Lahore, with “a few foreigners and some Pakistanis” on board to fetch Bibi.

Wire services reported that troops guarded the roads leading to the airport from which she flew to the airport near the capital, Islamabad, but was in protective custody because of threats to her life, according to three officials who did not want to be named.

Pakistan’s Foreign Office on Thursday dismissed reports that Bibi had left the country after being released from jail.

“Asia Bibi is in Pakistan. There is no truth in reports about Asia Bibi leaving the country,” Geo News quoted a Foreign Office spokesman as saying.

Earlier, a tweet by Antonio Tajani, president of the European Parliament, raised speculation she was on her way to Europe. “Asia Bibi has left the prison and has been transferred to a safe place! I thank the Pakistani authorities. I look forward meeting her and her family, in the European Parliament as soon as possible.”

“She has been freed.” – Saif-ul-Mulook, Bibi’s lawyer

On November 6, Tajani had invited Bibi’s husband and family to the European Parliament. “I call on the Pakistani authorities to issue the necessary travel documents. European rules provide protection for those who are threatened because of their faith,” he wrote in a tweet.

“She has been freed,” lawyer Saif-ul-Mulook said in a text message to AFP. “I have been told that she is on a plane but nobody knows where she will land.”

Her release comes a week after her acquittal by the Supreme Court, and eight years since she was convicted on blasphemy charges and sent to death row.

Asia’s conviction was overturned on October 31, but she remained in prison as the government negotiated with protesters who blockaded major cities and demanded her immediate execution. After a three-day stand-off, the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan agreed to allow a review of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Afridi on Wednesday said the government would uphold the Supreme Court’s verdict and not place Asia Bibi’s name on the Exit Control List (ECL) until she is proved guilty.

“The government will uphold whatever the SC decides,” he said in an interview with Voice of America.

“If someone cannot be proved guilty, how we can place their name on ECL? There can be no question about that.”

Bibi’s husband Ashiq Masih, who is being held in a safe place in Pakistan with their children, has appealed to Britain and the US to grant the family asylum, while her lawyer has fled to the Netherlands.