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Husband of woman acquitted of blasphemy appeals to the U.S. and Britain to help the family leave Pakistan

Husband of woman acquitted of blasphemy appeals to the U.S. and Britain to help the family leave Pakistan
Supporters of Islamic political party Jamat-e-Islami in Karachi hold placards on Nov. 4, 2018, bearing the name of the prophet Muhammad during a protest after the Supreme Court in Pakistan acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian accused of blasphemy. (Shahzaib Akber / EPA/Shutterstock)

The husband of a Christian woman acquitted eight years after being sentenced to death for blasphemy, but not released after countrywide protests, appealed Sunday to President Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May to help the family leave Pakistan.

Asia Bibi's husband, Ashiq Masih, in a brief video message said they were in danger. “Please help us, we are in trouble in Pakistan,” Masih said.

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Bibi’s lawyer Saiful Malook has already fled the country for safety.

Bibi was arrested in 2009 after she was accused of blasphemy following a quarrel with two fellow female farmworkers who refused to drink from a water container used by a Christian. A few days later, a mob accused her of insulting Islam's prophet, leading to her 2010 conviction. Bibi's family has maintained her innocence and says she never insulted the prophet.

Insulting Islam is punishable by death in Pakistan, and the mere rumor of doing so can incite lynchings.

Pakistan's top court acquitted Bibi on Wednesday of the charges carrying the death penalty, infuriating hard-line Islamists who held three days of nationwide protests demanding her execution. The enraged protesters torched scores of vehicles, blocked highways and attacked government and public property; a radical cleric also threatened to kill the three judges who acquitted Bibi.

The protests ended after the government agreed to impose a travel ban on Bibi and allow her case to be reviewed. A review petition was filed in the Supreme Court.

Police said more than 150 people were arrested on charges of arson, vandalism and violence during the protests.

Senior police officer Nayab Haider said that police were using video clips to identify those involved in assaults, torching property and vehicles, and blocking highways.

Defending the police's actions, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the government cannot spare those involved in violence. He said that the government cleared blocked cities without any bloodshed.

“No government can tolerate a rebellion against the state,” Chaudhry said.

Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari tweeted that “appeasement to ‘avoid bloodshed’ sends a dangerous message to non-state actors and undermines the concept of democratic peaceful protest.”

“The State has to enforce Rule of Law, Constitution and stand by state institutions especially when they are targeted,” Mazari added.

Also Sunday, about 2,000 supporters of the Jamaat-e-Islami party in the southern port city of Karachi held a march to protest the acquittal of Bibi, but they remained peaceful.

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3 p.m.: This article was updated with Asia Bibi’s husband appealing for help to get the family out of Pakistan.

This article was originally published at 1 a.m.

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