Asia Bibi can leave Pakistan only after court decision, says official

Asia Bibi can leave Pakistan only after court decision, says official 

An undated handout photo made available by the family shows Asia Bibi, a Christian accused of blasphemy, after Supreme Court annulled her death sentence for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad in 2009, in Nankana, Pakistan, (issued 31 October 2018). EPA-EFE FILE/BIBI FAMILY / HANDOUT

Islamabad, Nov 8 (efe-epa).- Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi can leave the country only if the Supreme Court rejects an appeal challenging her acquittal in a blasphemy case, a foreign ministry official said on Thursday.

Bibi, a mother of five, was released from prison after eight years on death row on Wednesday after being acquitted by the Supreme Court of blasphemy charges on Oct. 31.

«Asia is at a safe place in Pakistan. She is a free citizen now. A writ is undergoing (in the court),» Foreign ministry spokesperson Mohamed Faisal told reporters in Islamabad.

He said Asia was free «travel to wherever she wants» after the court’s decision on the review petition.

«No one will object to it. A free national can go wherever he or she wants to. She is pretty much with Pakistani authorities. The state of Pakistan is there to protect her,» Faisal said.

Cleric Qari Mohamed Salam, however, sought a review, requesting the court that she should not be allowed to leave the country before his petition is heard.

The woman was accused of insulting Prophet Muhammad in 2009 and a court sentenced her to death in 2010.

Her acquittal triggered widespread protests led by the hardline Islamist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan.

On Nov. 2, the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan reached an agreement with the TLP and agreed to allow them to file a review in the court and stop Asia from leaving the country until the verdict is announced.

The foreign office spokesperson also denied speculation that Asia had left the country.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry also tweeted that reports about her fleeing were false.

Asia’s family has asked for help and asylum for security reasons from the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States and Italy.

On Wednesday, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini announced that his country would help Bibi leave Pakistan.

Last weekend, her lawyer Saif Mulook left Pakistan, fearing for his life after protests against the acquittal paralyzed the country.

Pakistan’s harsh anti-blasphemy law was established during British colonial rule to avoid religious clashes. But several changes to the law in the 1980s promoted by the then military dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq, led to its abuse.