Asia Noreen will celebrate Christmas under guard

She was cleared of charges that kept her in jail since 2010
Dec 21, 2019
[caption id="attachment_1597997" align="alignnone" width="826"] AFP Photo[/caption] Asia Bibi, a former labourer who was on death row for eight years, remains a prime target in Pakistan, with extremists calling for her blood and the government refusing to reveal her location out of fear for her safety. "It's too dangerous... People want to kill her," said Yousaf Hadayat, a resident from one of Islamabad's impoverished Christian ghettos, littered this week by a smattering of Santa hats and Christmas trees. Security this Christmas, like many before it, will be tight with the government set to deploy armed forces to the Christian colonies. Residents say they feel more uneasy than ever during the holiday while Asia’s fate continues to loom large. "We're afraid," said Pastor Munawar Inayat at Holy of Holies Church in Islamabad. "We can't speak against anyone." The Supreme Court overturned Asia’s death sentence in October, and she has legally been a free woman ever since. But the ruling ignited days of violent demonstrations that paralysed large swathes of the country, with enraged conservatives calling for her beheading, mutiny within the military and the assassination of top judges. The government has since launched a crackdown on the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan party, charging its leaders with sedition and terrorism. But authorities also struck a deal with the protesters to end the violence, forming an agreement which included allowing a final review of the Supreme Court's judgement. But there is no clear timeline for when it will be completed. A government spokesman refused to comment on its status, saying only that the matter is with the court. Analyst Fasi Zaka warned that the longer she remains in limbo, the greater the danger. "For some elements if they don't have access to Asia Bibi they'll find stand-ins for their vengeance," he told AFP. The allegations against Asia date to 2009, when a fight erupted between her and fellow labourers, who later accused her of blasphemy. She was convicted under Pakistan's anti-blasphemy laws and in 2010 was sentenced to death. Since her acquittal speculation has been rife that an asylum deal with a European or North American country may be in the works. Many residents of the 100 Quarters Colony in Islamabad cautioned against her release, saying her safety would only be guaranteed once she was granted asylum. "No, no. She cannot stay," said resident Hadayat. Polio campaign worker Shahnaz Arif argued against her ongoing custody. "We should get the same freedom that others enjoy," she said. Even so she admitted she was afraid, citing Pakistan's long history of political assassinations, including some over blasphemy. "There is not enough security for our leaders -- we are just poor citizens," she explained. Christians, who make up around two percent of the population, occupy one of the lowest rungs in class-obsessed Pakistani society, largely living in slums and working menial jobs as street sweepers, cleaners and cooks. The tension comes as Washington added Pakistan this month to a blacklist of countries that it says wantonly violate religious freedom, citing the country's high number of blasphemy convictions and failure to hold perpetrators targeting religious minorities to account. Islamabad later dismissed the US move as politically motivated. Back in the 100 Quarters Colony, residents said their thoughts were with a mother who has already spent many Christmases in solitary confinement.




Asia Bibi


Aasia Bibi

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