Following an outbreak of protests in Pakistan against the acquittal of Asia Bibi on charges of blasphemy, the government has reportedly begun a process that would add her to a list of people prohibited from leaving the country.
According to Pakistani news source Dawn, the government have made an agreement with the Islamist political party Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), which coordinated the protests against Bibi’s release.
Thousands of angry demonstrators have taken to the streets in the major cities of Islamabad and Lahore, demanding Bibi’s execution.
According to Dawn, in exchange for the TLP halting the protests, the government has agreed to review an appeal of Bibi’s acquittal, and to begin the process of placing her name on the “exit control list,” which would prevent her from leaving the country.
Bibi has not appeared in public following her aquittal due to the protests and concerns for her safety. Prime Minister and former cricket player Imran Khan has called for peace. Khan was elected following a public statement in support of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, a move many commentators considered to be an appeasement to hardline voters and a reversal of his platform as a reforming populist.
Some figures in the Pakistani government have denied that her name will be placed on the exit control list. Her current whereabouts are unknown, with some reports suggesting that she is being held in a secured location.
As part of the reported agreement, the Pakistani government is also expected to release anyone who was arrested during the four days of protests, and the TLP will apologize to anyone “inconvenienced” by the demonstrations.
Bibi was acquitted of blasphemy charges and her death sentence was overturned on October 30. Protests against her release commenced almost immediately.
The blasphemy charges stemmed from an argument over a cup of water in June 2009.
Bibi, whose family were the only Christians in her village, attempted to drink from a cup of water that had previously been used by Muslims. She was told that she could not, as she was “unclean” due to her faith. An argument ensued, and Bibi allegedly said disparaging remarks about the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Several days later, Bibi was reported to authorities.
She is the first female non-Muslim in Pakistan to be charged with blasphemy. She and her family say she is innocent of the charges.
In 2010, she was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death by hanging. In Pakistan, defaming Muhammad carries a mandatory death sentence.
Bibi had repeatedly appealed her sentence. Her conviction was upheld in 2014 before the Pakistani Supreme Court agreed to hear her appeal. During this time, two government officials who expressed sympathy towards her plight were assassinated by Islamic extremists.
The complainant in the blasphemy case has now filed a review petition against the supreme court’s decision to overturn her death sentence and conviction. He has also requested that Bibi be placed on the exit control list until that appeal is heard.
It is unclear where Bibi will go after she is released and if she is permitted to leave Pakistan. Her husband and children lived in the U.K. during her trial and appeals process, and she has been offered asylum by several countries.
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