In limbo

  • From jail to protective custody

The Supreme Court acquitted Aasia Bibi ordering her immediate release if there were no other charges against her, and there were none. But she still remains in protective custody.

The extremist elements held several Punjab cities besides Karachi and Peshawar hostage for three days through violent protests against the SC judgment. This led the weak kneed PTI government surrender to the pressure and sign an agreement with the TLP leadership which among other things required the government to immediately initiate proceedings to put Aasia Bibi’s name on the Exist Control List (ECL). This practically amounted to over-riding the SC verdict.

In an interview given to the VoA Shahryar Afirdi seemed to be resiling from the promise made to the TLP. As he put it, federal government will uphold the SC’s verdict that acquitted Aasia Bibi of blasphemy charges, assuring that her name would not be placed on the ECL until she is proven guilty. The statement suggests that as things stand Aasia Bibi is a free person. But is she? A free person can travel abroad if their name is not on the ECL as is the case presently with Bibi. Can she leave Pakistan if provided asylum by a foreign country?

PTI’s minister for religious affairs Nurul Haq Qadri says no. Asia Bibi won’t leave Pakistan till the end of the ‘legal process.’ It appears that both Afridi and Qadri want to keep her in Pakistan till the SC takes another decision i.e., reject the appeal filed against its verdict. Despite the clear and unambiguous decision of the SC to acquit her, a government feeling shaky and unable to face mobs is keen to keep her in the country till someone else takes the decision to let her go out. Bibi has already languished in jail for eight years. It appears that her ordeal is not going to end any time soon as she moves from jail to protective custody. The burden to release an already acquitted person has been shifted to the SC. The way PTI leadership is surrendering to the extremists bodes well neither for the party, nor the country.