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Pakistan

Pakistan rejects claims Asia Bibi has fled country

Catholic mother released from jail after eight years on death row on blasphemy charges

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Pakistan rejects claims Asia Bibi has fled country

A Pakistani supporter of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, a hard-line Islamist group, stands over an image of Christian woman Asia Bibi at a protest in Islamabad on Nov. 2 following the Supreme Court's decision to acquit her of blasphemy. (Photo by Aamir Qureshi/AFP)

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Pakistan has denied news reports that Catholic woman Asia Bibi has left the country following her release from prison.

Officials said the farm laborer whose blasphemy case triggered violent protests and assassinations left a prison in Punjab province on Nov. 7 and was flown to Islamabad, where she was taken to a secure location following threats to her life.

Rumors spread after some media reported that Bibi, a 52-year-old mother of five who spent eight years on death row on charges of insulting the Prophet Muhammad, boarded a plane but its destination was not known.

"Asia Bibi is in Pakistan. There is no truth in reports that Asia Bibi has left the country," Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Faisal told a press briefing on Nov. 8.

Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Chaudhry Fawad Hussain described reports of Bibi leaving Pakistan as "fake news" and called on the media to act responsibly.

The government has agreed to a travel ban preventing Bibi from leaving the country and said it would not object to groups appealing the Supreme Court verdict on Oct. 31 that overturned her conviction for blasphemy and ordered her release from prison.

The agreement was signed on Nov. 2 between state officials and leaders of Islamist group Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), which led a three-day nationwide protest against the court judgment that resulted in massive destruction of private and public property. More than 2,000 protesters were arrested.

In a video message last week, Bibi's husband Ashiq Masih asked the U.S. and British governments to help the family.

Antonio Tajani, president of the European Parliament, has invited Bibi's family to visit Brussels or Strasbourg for a meeting.

"The European Parliament is extremely concerned for your safety as well as your family's due to violence by extremist elements in Pakistan. We have asked the Pakistani authorities to guarantee your safety and of those protecting you," Tajani said in a Nov. 6 letter.

"The Pakistani authorities must uphold the rule of law and their international human rights commitments. I will personally contact the relevant Pakistani authorities to ask them to provide you and your family with the necessary travel documents."

Father Abid Habib, former regional coordinator of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic religious major superiors, confirmed Bibi's freedom.

"At least she is out of Multan jail. Perhaps the authorities were keeping her there for her own protection. Still, this is a terrible torture after years of confinement. There is no freedom if she cannot live normally like any other citizen," he told ucanews.com.

"TLP declared that the judges and the lawyer who supported Asia should be killed, called [army chief] General [Qamar] Bajwa a traitor and asked soldiers to organize a mutiny against him. The prime minister was declared to be a Jew," he said.

"Fundamentalism is pulling our country back to the Stone Age. Let the law take its course. The authorities should arrest TLP leaders and charge them with treason. Get hold of the real culprits."

Bibi's lawyer Saiful Malook fled Pakistan at the weekend after receiving death threats and is seeking asylum in the Netherlands.

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