By Saad Sayeed and Asif Shahzad
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – The Pakistani lawyer who helped a Christian woman overturn her death sentence for blasphemy said on Saturday he had left the country in fear of his life after her acquittal earlier this week sparked street protests by Islamists.
Leaders of the ultra-Islamist Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) group blocked main roads in Pakistan’s biggest cites for three days, calling for the murder of the Supreme Court judges who acquitted Asia Bibi on Wednesday — urging their cooks and servants to kill them.
Saiful Mulook had kept a low profile during the years he represented Bibi, a mother-of-five who has been on death row since 2010, due to the highly sensitive nature of the case. Two politicians who had tried to help her have been assassinated.
Mulook told Reuters in a WhatsApp message he had gone abroad “just to save (my) life from angry mob” and because of fears for the safety of his family.
“I consulted and everybody is of this opinion (that I should leave),” he said, adding that he would return to the country to continue his work on the case if he was given protection by security forces.
The TLP called off the protests late on Friday after striking a deal with the government that would see authorities seek to put Bibi on an ‘exit control list’ barring her from leaving the country.
Bibi’s whereabouts are unknown, but Islamists have warned the authorities against taking her out of the country.
“There will be a war if they send Asia out of country,” TLP leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi said after the deal was reached.
Earlier in the week one of Rizvi’s deputies called for Pakistan’s Chief Justice Saqib Nisar and two other judges who ruled in the case to be murdered.
“Whoever, who has got any access to them, kill them before the evening,” TLP co-founder Muhammad Afzal Qadri told supporters.
The TLP was founded out of a movement supporting a bodyguard who assassinated Punjab provincial governor Salman Taseer after he spoke in Bibi’s defence in 2011. Federal minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti was also killed after calling for her release.
Bibi was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbours objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim. She always denied having committed blasphemy.
The case has outraged Christians worldwide and been a source of division within Pakistan, where Islamist parties such as the TLP have framed Bibi’s release as Pakistan’s government caving into Western demands.
Bibi’s acquittal is being reviewed, though it is extremely rare for a review to overturn a Supreme Court ruling.
(Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Helen Popper)