Pakistani minister: Asia Bibi could be barred from leaving the country | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 05.11.2018
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Pakistani minister: Asia Bibi could be barred from leaving the country

In an interview with DW, Fawad Chaudhry, Pakistan's information minister, said that if legal requirements are met, Asia Bibi could be banned from exiting Pakistan. Islamists demand that the Christian woman be executed.

Despite her acquittal by the Supreme Court in a blasphemy appeal case on Wednesday, Asia Bibi is still in detention.

Her husband, Ashiq Masih, has now appealed to US President Donald Trump for asylum, along with asking British Prime Minister Theresa May and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to help the family exit the country.

Following Bibi's acquittal, the hard-line Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) party took to the streets and forced the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan to strike a deal to end the protest.

According to the deal, the government will not block a review petition for the acquittal and will take measures to ban Bibi from traveling abroad.

Read more: Blasphemy agreement: Is Pakistan ruled by Islamists?

Bibi was arrested in June 2009, after her neighbors complained that she had made derogatory remarks about Islam's Prophet Muhammad. A year later, Bibi was sentenced to death under the country's blasphemy laws despite strong opposition from national and international human rights groups.

Read more: Asia Bibi's lawyer leaves Pakistan as his client stays in jail

After a hearing on October 8 of this year, Pakistan's Supreme Court reversed two lower court verdicts against Bibi in what was her final appeal against the 2010 death sentence.

In 2014, the death sentence had been upheld by the Lahore High Court. Rights group Amnesty International dubbed the verdict a "grave injustice."

In 2015, Bibi's lawyers filed an appeal in the Supreme Court against the death penalty.

Read more: Opinion: Bibi verdict avoids Pakistan's blasphemy problem

Pakistan's information minister Fawad Chaudhry with PM Imran Khan (AFP/Getty Images)

Pakistan's information minister Fawad Chaudhry (L) with PM Imran Khan

In an interview with DW, Fawad Chaudhry, Pakistan's federal minister for information and broadcasting, told DW that Bibi's fate is again in the hands of the Supreme Court after the filing of the review petition.

DW: What measures have you taken against Islamist protesters that held the country under siege after the Supreme Court's decision to acquit Asia Bibi in a blasphemy case?

Fawad Chaudhry: The protests are over and we have entered into an agreement with them to end their demonstrations. Our primary focus was on ending the siege and protests without any violence.

We had two options: to use the state power to confront these protesters or negotiate a deal. We preferred the latter. I am happy that we achieved our targets without using force.

But your government has reportedly arrested hundreds of Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) activists in the past two days – after sealing a deal with them…

The agreement didn't bar arrests. At the same time, those who showed aggression against the public and violated the law had to be dealt with. And we will deal with them.

According to your deal with the TLP, the government agreed to take measures to prevent Asia Bibi from leaving Pakistan. What is her status right now?

The agreement did not say that the government has to take legal measures; the aggrieved parties have to do that. If legal requirements are fulfilled, her name can be placed on the Exit Control List (ECL).

The case is now with the Supreme Court, and a review petition has been filed with a plea that Bibi's name be put on the ECL. It is up to the top court to decide now.

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Asia Bibi's husband Ashiq Masih pleads for asylum

Prime Minister Imran Khan's government has come under sharp criticism that it caved in to extremists by agreeing to their demands. How would you respond to this?

I don't agree with that. We had a situation and we had to deal with it. Our priority was to avoid violence, and we achieved that through negotiations. Actually, governments in the past have caved in to extremists; our government hasn't.

Extremism is a reality in Pakistan. Previous governments did not take any steps to eradicate or confront this menace. We will definitely take steps to deal with it. Extremism is not only a problem for Pakistan but for other countries too. India is facing it, the US is facing it, and so are other Western nations. We need a joint effort – at the UN level and also at the state level – to deal with it, and we will.

But would you agree that Pakistan's image has been severely damaged because of the entire Bibi issue? 

Whenever such protests happen, they affect the country. As I said earlier, Pakistan is not the only country facing this challenge. The international community needs to take joint measures to tackle the extremism issue. We also need to work on it domestically.

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