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Pakistan

Pakistani lawyer is now an ‘easy target’ for extremists after helping Asia Bibi escape execution for blasphemy

  • Demonstrations against the Asia Bibi’s acquittal erupted across the country, with extremists calling for the assassination of Supreme Court justices
  • Bibi was accused of blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed, a charge punishable by death under colonial-era legislation
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 November, 2018, 2:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 November, 2018, 9:58pm

After saving condemned Christian Asia Bibi from the gallows in Pakistan, her lawyer says he is facing the wrath of Islamist extremists – and wonders who will save him. But despite the threats against him, Saif-ul-Mulook says he regrets nothing, and will continue his legal fight against intolerance.

Mulook’s latest victory saw the freeing of Asia Bibi – a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy, who spent nearly a decade on death row – after the Supreme Court overturned her conviction on Wednesday.

The allegations against Bibi date back to 2009, when Muslim women she was labouring with in a field objected to sharing water with her because she was Christian. After an argument, the women went to a local cleric and accused Bibi of blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed, a charge punishable by death under colonial-era legislation.

“The verdict has shown that the poor, the minorities and the lowest segments of society can get justice in this country despite its shortcomings,” he said immediately after the verdict. “This is the biggest and happiest day of my life.”

Demonstrations against the ruling erupted across the country hours later, with extremists calling for the assassination of Supreme Court justices. Bibi’s brother said she will leave Pakistan after her formal release from an undisclosed place where she is being held for security reasons. France and Spain have offered asylum.

One of the most vocal groups leading the protests – the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) – called for “mutiny” against the army’s top brass following the verdict.

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“The Muslim generals of the army, it is their responsibility that they should launch a rebellion against these generals,” Afzal Qadri – a TLP leader – told supporters in Lahore.

Blasphemy is a highly inflammatory charge in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even the slightest whiff of insulting Islam and its Prophet Mohammed can incite vigilante mobs. Mulook said he feels he is now a sitting duck with no security or escape plan.

“I think I have absolutely no safety. No security and I am the easiest target … anybody can kill me,” he said.

The defence of Bibi was just the latest in a long line of controversial cases taken up by the barrister.

In 2011, Mulook was the lead prosecutor against Mumtaz Qadri over the assassination of Punjab governor Salman Taseer – a prominent critic of the country’s blasphemy laws and supporter of Bibi.

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Qadri – one of Taseer’s bodyguards – gunned down his boss in broad daylight, citing the governor’s calls for reform of the blasphemy laws as his motive.

Mulook said he took on the case as others cowered, fearing reprisals from extremists. His prosecution resulted in the conviction and subsequent execution of Qadri, who was feted by Islamists and later honoured with a shrine on the outskirts of Islamabad.

Mulook said his life has not been the same since; he rarely socialises, lives in a constant state of hypervigilance and has been inundated with threats.

“If you conduct such cases you should be ready for the results and the consequences,” the greying 62-year-old said.

But Mulook said the risks have been worth the reward.

“I think it’s better to die as a brave and strong man than to die as a mouse and fearful person,” he said.

“I extend my legal help to all people.”