The husband of the Pakistani Catholic woman who was recently acquitted of blasphemy charges is asking several Western nations to provide asylum for his family, whom he says is in danger of death.
In a video message, Ashiq Masih requested asylum for his family from the U.S., Canada, and the UK. His wife, Asia Bibi, had her death sentence overturned in a high-profile case last week, but riots following the verdict have endangered the lives of the entire family, Masih said.
Bibi was previously found guilty of making disparaging comments against the Islamic Prophet Muhammad during an argument with some neighbors. In 2010, she was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death by hanging. Defaming Muhammad carries a mandatory death sentence in Pakistan.
After the Pakistan Supreme Court overturned verdict on Oct. 31, noting Bibi was free to leave the prison, violent protests erupted throughout the predominantly Muslim country.
In a move to appease the riots, the government made an agreement with the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), the Islamist political party which coordinated protests against Bibi’s release.
The agreement requested an end to the protests in exchange for the government to review the acquittal and add her name to the country’s “exit control list,” which would bar her from the leaving the country. Several arrested protestors were also released.
Bibi is no longer allowed to the leave the jail, but her security has reportedly increased, and she is being kept in an undisclosed location.
Masih told German broadcaster DW that the agreement has sparked fear in his family, noting they have consistently changed locations to hide during this dangerous time. Bibi’s lawyers, Saif Mulook, fled the country on Saturday.
“The agreement has sent a shiver down my spine. My family is frightened, my relatives are frightened and my friends are also frightened. This agreement should never have been struck,” he said.
He expressed worry that the review of the verdict could be influenced by outside forces, who are heavily pressuring the court to convict Bibi.
“Now during the review petition, the clerics might gather outside the Supreme Court and try to influence the verdict. It is wrong to set a precedent in which you pile pressure onto the judiciary,” he said. “I went to session court, where I could see that the judge was under tremendous pressure to convict Asia.”
“My wife, Asia Bibi, has already suffered greatly. She has spent 10 years in jail. The verdict of the Supreme Court had created a ray of hope; we were excited that we would meet her soon,” he added.
Bibi was accused of making derogatory comments about Muhammad in 2009, when an argument broke out between her and some other farm workers when they were harvesting berries.
The argument stemmed from Bibi taking a drink from a cup of water which previously had been used by Muslims. An onlooker informed her that she could not do so, as she was “unclean” due to her faith. An argument ensued, and Bibi was then reported to Muslim clerics.
According to the BBC, Bibi was later attacked at her home, where she confessed to blasphemy, her accusers said. However, the Supreme Court said this was inadmissible evidence, as her confession was spoken in front of a mob who threatened to kill her.
Although the government has never executed a person under the blasphemy law, accusations alone have inspired mob and vigilante violence.
Blasphemy laws are reportedly used to settle scores or to persecute religious minorities. Many of those accused of blasphemy are murdered, and advocates of changing the law are also targeted by violence.
“The situation is dangerous for Asia. I feel that her life is not secure,” Masih told DW.