The lawyer for a Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy charges in Pakistan has fled the South Asian country, citing threats to his life following days of protests over the issue.
Saiful Malook, the representative for Aasia Bibi in the landmark Supreme Court hearing, told Al Jazeera on Saturday that he was no longer in Pakistan.
Earlier this week, Malook said he would have to leave the country because the followers of far-right cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi had threatened to kill him as well as the judges who acquitted Bibi.
“In the current scenario, it’s not possible for me to live in Pakistan,” the lawyer told AFP news agency on Saturday morning before boarding a plane to a European country.
“I need to stay alive as I still have to fight the legal battle for Aasia Bibi,” he said.
Blasphemy is a sensitive subject in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where the country’s strict laws prescribe a mandatory death penalty for some forms of the crime.
Increasingly, blasphemy allegations have led to murders and mob lynchings, with at least 74 people killed in such violence since 1990, according to an Al Jazeera tally.
Malook’s departure came a day after Pakistan’s far-right Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party called off nationwide protests over the case, announcing it had struck a deal with the government to end the demonstrations sparked by the court’s judgment on Wednesday.
Under the agreement, TLP protesters were granted legal amnesty, while Bibi was placed on Pakistan’s Exit Control List, which effectively bars her from leaving the country while the court reviews its verdict.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Pakistan’s Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the government acted in line with the country’s constitution while brokering the deal.
“We have been able to defuse the tension and the protests without hurting anyone and that’s a success,” Chaudhry said from the capital, Islamabad, on Saturday.
“Extremism is a reality and previous governments have not done enough [on this], now this government will start a process … to take this issue seriously and we have to bring certain reforms in education and elsewhere,” he added.
Court to review
In its ruling on Wednesday, the Supreme Court said there were “glaring and stark” contradictions in the blasphemy case against 53-year-old Bibi, who had been on death row for eight years prior to its verdict.
She was originally arrested in 2009 in the central Pakistani village of Ithan Wali over an argument with two Muslim women, who refused to drink water from the same vessel as her due to her religion.
The women accused her of having insulted Islam’s Prophet Muhammad during the altercation, a charge Bibi has consistently denied.
The original complainant in the case, Muhammad Salim, has filed a review petition against the top court’s verdict, TLP spokesperson Zubair Kasuri told Al Jazeera on Friday.
But according to Pakistani laws, the grounds for review petitions are extremely narrow and such appeals are seldom upheld, meaning the court’s acquittal of Bibi is likely to stand.
Additional reporting by Asad Hashim, Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim