Pakistani Christian Freed After Being Cleared in Blasphemy Case

Pakistani Christian Freed After Being Cleared in Blasphemy Case

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A Pakistani Christian woman who was cleared last week of blasphemy charges after spending eight years on death row has been released from prison but remains under government protection in Islamabad because of threats to her life, officials said Thursday.

The woman, Asia Bibi, was released from a prison in central Pakistan and flown to the capital, Islamabad, late Wednesday night, a senior government official said Thursday on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the matter

One official, however, denied news reports that Ms. Bibi had already flown out of Pakistan after her release.

“She is in Pakistan,” said Mohammad Faisal, the spokesman for Pakistan’s foreign office.

Ms. Bibi’s family has appealed for asylum, saying she is in grave danger as hard-line Islamists call for her execution. Her lawyer, Saiful Malook, has already left Pakistan, citing threats to his own life.

The Supreme Court acquitted Ms. Bibi on Oct. 31 in an exceptionally rare ruling against a blasphemy verdict. The three-member bench concluded that there was little evidence that Ms. Bibi, a farmworker and mother of three, had spoken against the Prophet Muhammad during a heated argument with Muslim women in 2009.

She was convicted and sentenced to death in 2010, a verdict that drew worldwide condemnation and focused attention on Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which critics say has been used to persecute religious minorities.

The Supreme Court’s ruling last week clearing Ms. Bibi set off violent protests across the country that were spearheaded by Khadim Hussian Rizvi, a fiery religious cleric. Mr. Rizvi’s supporters paralyzed large parts of the country for two days, blocked highways and damaged several dozen vehicles.

The protests were called off only after the government agreed to allow a review of the verdict and initiate legal proceedings to bar Ms. Bibi from leaving the country.

The Pakistani government has been walking a tightrope as it tries to calm religious sentiments while also standing by Ms. Bibi after her acquittal. Officials have warned that Islamist leaders will be put under house arrest if they plan more street protests over Ms. Bibi’s fate.

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