A Pakistani Christian woman has been freed from prison a week after the Supreme Court overturned her conviction and death sentence for blasphemy against Islam, and she is now at a secure location for fear of attacks on her, officials said on Thursday.
The release of Asia Bibi, a mother of five, prompted immediate anger from a hard-line Islamist party that has threatened to paralyse daily life countrywide with street protests if her acquittal is not reversed.
Insulting Islam’s Prophet Mohammad carries a mandatory death penalty in Pakistan, which has among the harshest blasphemy laws in the world.
Three security officials told Reuters early on Thursday that Bibi, aged 53, had been released from a prison in Multan, a city in southern Punjab province.
She was flown to the airport near the capital, Islamabad, but was in protective custody because of threats to her life, said the three officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Bibi’s lawyer – who fled the country after the Supreme Court ruling and this week sought asylum in the Netherlands – confirmed she was no longer in prison.
“All I can tell you is that she has been released,” lawyer Saif-ul-Mulook told Reuters by phone from the Netherlands.
A spokesman for the hard-line Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) party that took to the streets after the Supreme Court ruling said her release violated a deal with the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan to end the protests.
“The TLP activists are agitated as the government has breached the agreement with our party. The rulers have showed their dishonesty,” TLP spokesman Ejaz Ashrafi told Reuters.
A government deal with the TLP protesters last week promised not to block a petition for the Supreme Court to review Bibi’s acquittal in light of Islamic sharia law.
The government also promised to work to ensure she could not leave the country to seek asylum while the petition was pending, the TLP has said.