Blasphemy lawyer returns to Pakistan to aid in Bibi appeal

28.01.2019

The Pakistani lawyer of a Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy jetted out of the Netherlands on Saturday to "hopefully assist his client for the last time" in a Pakistani court hearing, a Dutch MP said.

Saif-ul-Malook fled to the Netherlands from Pakistan in November last year after violent protests erupted over the Pakistani Supreme Court's decision to overturn the conviction of Asia Bibi, who was on death row.

Pakistan's Supreme Court will decide on Tuesday whether to allow an appeal against Bibi's acquittal, lawyers in the case have said.

Christian Union party parliamentarian Joel Voordewind tweeted a picture of himself and Malook saying "this afternoon (Saturday) I escorted Asia Bibi's lawyer, Mr Malook to Schiphol airport."

"He's going back to Pakistan to hopefully represent Asia for the last time in her case," Voordewind said. The Netherlands last year granted Malook a temporary stay, but Voordewind said Malook will "unfortunately lose his asylum status in the Netherlands."

The allegations against Bibi date back to 2009, when Muslim women accused her of blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad, a charge punishable by death under the colonial-era legislation. Her case drew the attention of international rights groups and swiftly became the most high-profile in the country.

If the court refuses to allow the appeal, it will remove the last legal hurdle facing Bibi, who is a prime target in conservative Muslim-majority Pakistan and remains in protective custody. Bibi was on death row for eight years for blasphemy, a hugely sensitive charge.

Meanwhile, the Dutch ambassador to Pakistan is to return to Islamabad next month after receiving a death threat last year, reportedly from Islamists angry over anti-Islam tweets by far-right politician Geert Wilders, Dutch media reported earlier Saturday.

Ardi Stoios-Braken "will fly back to Islamabad in early February," the daily tabloid Algemeen Dagblad said. She was on leave in the Netherlands in late October last year when she received word "that a letter arrived at the embassy from Pakistani authorities".

"The letter spoke of a 'specific threat' and was related to the Muhammad cartoon contest that had already been cancelled months before," the paper said.

Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said in November that Stoios-Braken, a veteran diplomat, faced "threats" in Pakistan, apparently over "blasphemous depictions" by Wilders on Twitter.

Wilders in August called off a planned Prophet Muhammad cartoon competition that stirred anger in Pakistan.

Pakistan's interior ministry in October wrote a secret memo on plans to "target" the Dutch ambassador by the hardline Islamist Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan party (TLP), media from both countries reported at the time.

The TLP, founded in 2015, led protests in August calling for Pakistan to sever diplomatic relations with the Netherlands over the Wilders cartoon contest. The TLP has denied making any threats.

The Pakistani government however has since launched a crackdown on the TLP, charging its leaders with sedition and terrorism.

But authorities also struck a deal with the protesters to end the violence, forming an agreement which included allowing a final review of the Supreme Court's judgement.    (AFP)

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