The bravery and perseverance of Bibi, her family, and her legal team should not be overshadowed
In any other country her ordeal would be cause for outrage, but in Pakistan merely resisting radical pressure was considered a feat on its own
The Independent Voices
It felt like déjà vu. After the supreme court in Pakistan rejected a challenge to the acquittal of Asia Bibi on blasphemy charges, conflicting reports of her release and departure from the country started to hit the airwaves.
The nation watched with bated breath, fearful of a repeat of the events from last year when violent protesters held Pakistan hostage in the aftermath of the landmark supreme court verdict that overturned the death sentence.
The riots had been led by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a political party made up of religious extremists dedicated to punishing blasphemy, who called for the justices to be killed and for army officers to commit mutiny. These weren’t peaceful protesters marching for their rights, these were fanatics destroying property and making death threats.
After Imran Khan, the Pakistan prime minister, went on the air to strongly rebuke the armed protesters and warn them against clashing with the state, it seemed to signal that a line had finally been drawn in the sand in a country where religious hardliners are normally given a free pass to do as they please, often at the expense of other citizens.
However, many were disappointed to learn that despite the tough rhetoric, the government had been in negotiations with the group. An agreement was reached, with one of the conditions being that the government should take legal measures to put Bibi’s name on the exit control list. The review petition filed against the supreme court’s judgement was another. It read like a surrender on the part of the government.
At a time when Pakistan’s economy was on the brink and the government struggled to secure financing, the cost of the armed protests, estimated by one government official to be $1.2bn (£900m), was indefensible. Yet no one was held to account back then.