Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi can leave the country only if the Supreme Court rejects an appeal challenging her acquittal in a blasphemy case, the government said on Thursday.
Bibi, a mother of five, was released on Wednesday night from a prison in Multan, where she spent eight years on death row. She was accused of insulting Prophet Muhammad in 2009 and a court sentenced her to death in 2010.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mohammad Faisal denied rumours that Bibi had left the country after the furore caused by her release. “There is no truth in reports of her leaving the country — it is fake news,” Faisal told Dawn NewsTV.
Her acquittal by the apex court on October 31 triggered widespread protests led by the hardline Islamist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP).
“Asia (Bibi) is at a safe place in Pakistan. She is a free citizen now. A writ is undergoing (in the court),” Faisal said.
He said Bibi was free to “travel to wherever she wants” after the court’s decision on the review petition.
“No one will object to it. A free national can go wherever he or she wants to. She is pretty much with Pakistani authorities. The state of Pakistan is there to protect her.”
Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry called out the “irresponsible” behaviour of certain media outlets for running the news of Bibi leaving the country without “confirmation”.
“It has become a norm to publish fake news for sake of headlines,” Chaudhry said on Twitter. “#AsiaBibi case is sensitive issue. It was extremely irresponsible to publish news of her leaving the country without confirmation. I strongly urge section of media to act responsible.”
The TLP wants the Supreme Court to review the verdict. The radical group last week forced the government to agree that Bibi would not be allowed to leave Pakistan and that it would not block a review petition.
TLP spokesperson Ijaz Ashrafi tweeted that no government department confirmed that Bibi had gone abroad and added that government had assured the party that she would remain in the country until the verdict on the review petition was announced.
Bibi’s family had asked for help and asylum for security reasons from the UK, Canada, the US and Italy.
On Wednesday, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini announced that his country would help Bibi leave Pakistan.
Last weekend, Bibi’s lawyer Saif Mulook left Pakistan, fearing for his life after protests against the acquittal paralyzed the country.
Pakistan’s harsh anti-blasphemy law was established during British colonial rule to avoid religious clashes. But several changes to the law in the 1980s promoted by the then military dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq, led to its abuse.