Pakistani lawyer returns home to defend Christian woman

Pakistani lawyer returns home to defend Christian woman

Pakistani lawyer returns home to defend Christian woman

In this Oct. 13, 2016, file photo, Saiful Malook, left, then lawyer of Aasia Bibi, briefs media with Bibi's husband Ashiq Masih outside the Supreme Court in Islamabad, Pakistan. (Credit: B.K. Bangash/AP.)

The lawyer of a Pakistani Christian woman awaiting the final ruling on her fate vowed Monday he would fight the last legal hurdle for his client who had faced death threats from Islamic radicals following her acquittal in a blasphemy case last year.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The lawyer of a Pakistani Christian woman awaiting the final ruling on her fate vowed Monday he would fight the last legal hurdle for his client who had faced death threats from Islamic radicals following her acquittal in a blasphemy case last year.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court is to hear Tuesday a petition for a review of its acquittal of Aasia Bibi, who spent eight years on death row for blasphemy before being released last October.

Blasphemy against Islam is punishable by death in Pakistan and the mere rumor or accusation that someone has committed blasphemy has in the past led to lynchings. The country’s radical Islamists have made the issue their rallying cry.

If Pakistan’s top court upholds its earlier ruling, Bibi will be free to leave for Canada where her daughters have already been granted asylum. She is currently under guard at a secret location in Pakistan, which authorities say is for her own safety.

Her attorney, Saiful Malook, who himself received death threats for defending her and who fled the country after Bibi’s acquittal, is now back in Islamabad for Tuesday’s hearing.

“I am sure the review petition … will be rejected,” Malook told The Associated Press, adding he would be in court Tuesday. He said he has asked authorities to provide him with personal security.

The petitioners “have no case against my client, I am sure of that,” Malook added.

The 54-year-old mother of five was arrested in 2009 after being accused of blasphemy following a quarrel with two fellow Muslim female farm workers who refused to drink from a water container used by a Christian in a village in eastern Punjab province.

Incited by a local cleric, a mob at the time accused her of insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Police responded by arresting Bibi, who was sentenced to death in 2010.

Her Oct. 31 acquittal angered hard-line Islamists, who staged nationwide protests for days, demanding she be publicly hanged. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government then promised Bibi would not be allowed to leave Pakistan until her case is reviewed and in return, the Islamists halted their protests.

Days later, authorities arrested radical cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi and several of his followers for organizing rallies against Bibi. The cleric and the others remain in custody pending trial over damage of public property and for threatening Supreme Court judges who acquitted Bibi.

Pakistani police have stepped up security around the high court in Islamabad on the eve of the Supreme Court’s final decision.

Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry, the attorney for the petitioner, Qari Salam, a local cleric linked to Rizvi’s Tehreek-i-Labaik party who first brought the case against Bibi in 2009, says that if the petition is accepted, Bibi would be returned to prison and death row.

“Whatever is to be decided, it will be decided by the court on Tuesday,” Chaudhry said.

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