Aasia Bibi free to leave country, says Pakistan government

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Islamabad, Jan 31 (IANS) The government of Pakistan on Thursday said that Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who has been cleared of all blasphemy charges after spending eight years on death row, was free to leave the country.

Pakistan’s top court rejected an appeal against Bibi’s acquittal on Tuesday, paving the way for her potential departure from the country.

“There is a Supreme Court verdict which everyone has. It is not something secret. The verdict of the Supreme Court will be implemented”, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson Mohammad Faisal told reporters in Islamabad.

“To the best of my knowledge, Aasia Bibi is still in Pakistan. It’s up to her if she wants to live in Pakistan and if (she) want(s) to go abroad,” Faisal said, adding that Bibi was “a free Pakistani citizen” and that there were no restrictions on her movement.

Ahead of the court ruling on Tuesday, Bibi’s lawyer Saiful Malook told Efe news that she might join two of her daughters in Canada, but it was as yet unclear whether she would choose to leave her homeland.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which date from the period of British colonial rule, carry a potential death sentence for anyone who insults Islam and its figures.

Critics allege that the laws have been used to persecute minorities in the country of 200 million people – 95 to 98 per cent of whom are Muslims.

Bibi, a mother of five, was accused by two other women in 2009 of making offensive comments against the Prophet Muhammad, the most revered figure in Islam.

A court sentenced her to death in 2010 and she lost an appeal before the Lahore High Court four years later.

In October last year, the Supreme Court overturned her death sentence, triggering massive protests by far-right Islamist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan that paralyzed the country for three days.

Bibi was released from prison on November 7 but was kept in a safe house and barred from leaving the country while the Supreme Court reviewed the appeal against her acquittal.

The government, led by Prime Minister Imran Khan, reached an agreement with the Islamist group in November to end the protests, promising to allow them to request the judiciary to ban Bibi from moving abroad until the top court had issued its ruling.

At the end of November, the government arrested TLP leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi along with 3,000 of his followers for inciting the protests.

–IANS

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