International

Cleared in Blasphemy; Bibi to spend Christmas in custody

ISLAMABAD, Dec 23 (Agencies) | Publish Date: 12/23/2018 10:40:00 AM IST

Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi will celebrate Christmas under guard, despite being cleared of the blasphemy charges that kept her in jail since 2010.

Bibi -- a former labourer who was on death row for eight years -- remains a prime target in conservative Muslim-majority Pakistan, with extremists calling for her blood and the government refusing to reveal her location out of fear for her safety.
“It’s too dangerous, people want to kill her,” said Yousaf Hadayat, a resident from one of Islamabad’s impoverished Christian ghettos, littered this week by a smattering of Santa hats and Christmas trees.
Security this Christmas, like many before it, will be tight with the government set to deploy armed forces to the Christian colonies.
Residents say they feel more uneasy than ever during the religious holiday while Bibi’s fate continues to loom large.
“We’re afraid,” said Pastor Munawar Inayat at Holy of Holies Church in Islamabad. “We can’t speak against anyone.”
The Supreme Court overturned Bibi’s death sentence for blasphemy in October, and she has legally been a free woman ever since.
But the ruling ignited days of violent demonstrations that paralysed large swathes of the country, with enraged Islamists calling for her beheading, mutiny within the powerful military and the assassination of the country’s top judges.
The government has since launched a crackdown on the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party, the Islamist group driving the violent protests charging its leaders with sedition and terrorism.
But authorities also struck a deal with the protesters to end the violence, forming an agreement which included allowing a final review of the Supreme Court’s judgement.
Bibi, who is seeking asylum abroad, is believed to be in protective custody inside Pakistan as the review continues.
But there is no clear timeline for when it will be completed.
A government spokesman refused to comment on its status, saying only that the matter is with the court.
Analyst Fasi Zaka warned that the longer Bibi remains in limbo, the greater the danger. “For some elements if they don’t have access to Asia Bibi they’ll find stand-ins for their vengeance,” he told AFP.
 

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