Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy freed in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD (AP) — A Christian woman acquitted after eight years on death row in Pakistan for blasphemy was released but her whereabouts in Islamabad today remained a closely guarded secret in the wake of demands by radical Islamists that she be publicly executed.

Aasia Bibi was with her family and under heavy security after being transferred to the Pakistani capital overnight from her detention facility in southern Punjab, triggering expectations that her departure from the country could be imminent.

The European Parliament has made an offer to protect Bibi and her family but for the moment she was still in Pakistan, according to two people close to her. They spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to endanger Bibi’s life.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry confirmed later on Thursday that Bibi was still in Pakistan.

Radical Islamists have been demanding Bibi’s death as well as the death of the three Supreme Court judges who acquitted her last week.

Following her acquittal, the hard-line Tehreek-e-Labbaik Party forced a country-wide shut down as their supporters took to the streets for three days to protest Bibi’s release.

Scores of protesters were arrested for damaging vehicles and property during the rallies and bank accounts of some of the leaders of the party were reportedly frozen.

The rallies only dispersed after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government promised a court would review a motion to challenge the acquittal and deny Bibi permission to leave Pakistan.

Critics immediately accused Khan, who came to power after elections last summer riding in part on an Islamist agenda, of capitulating to the radicals.

Bibi’s release, her high-security transfer to Islamabad and her likely departure raised the prospect that Khan’s “promises” to the Islamists could have been an effort to buy time.