Lawyer risks everything to save Aasia Bibi

Published: March 31, 2016
Aasia Bibi PHOTO: FILE

Aasia Bibi PHOTO: FILE

LAHORE: As protesters turned up the pressure on the government this week to hang Aasia Bibi, a Christian mother of five convicted of blasphemy, one man is risking his own life to stand between her and the gallows.

Police guard the house in a quiet neighbourhood in Lahore where lawyer Saif-ul-Mulook lives with his daughter and wife.

They were deployed, he told AFP, “after intelligence officials said a group has carried out a recce of my office for a planned assassination”.

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Mulook is not famous, but his client is. Bibi has been on death row since 2010 — convicted for blasphemy after an argument with a Muslim woman over a bowl of water.

Her plight has prompted prayers from the Vatican and calls from hardliners in Pakistan for her to be hanged, repeated this week by protesters in a stand-off with security forces in the capital.

To stay alive long enough to defend her, Mulook, who is Muslim, says he lives in the shadows, moving only between his office and home.
“Nobody comes here,” the 60-year-old told AFP.

“We don’t go out to meet relatives or friends. They don’t come here to meet us.”

The danger is real. Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations can stir mobs and violence.

Rights groups say the legislation is often hijacked for personal vendettas, with minorities largely the target.

A Christian couple was lynched then burnt in a kiln in Punjab in 2014 after being falsely accused of desecrating the Holy Quran, while Bibi was moved to solitary confinement last year over fears of vigilantes.

“When I took (her) case, my fellow lawyers said ‘You have hammered the last nail into your coffin,'” Mulook said.

But when Bibi became Mulook’s client in 2014 he was no stranger to being a target: he was also the special prosecutor in the high-profile murder case of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer.

Fears grow for Aasia Bibi after Mumtaz Qadri’s hanging

Taseer was gunned down by his bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, in Islamabad in 2011 over his call for blasphemy law reform.

The brazen killing saw Qadri feted as a hero by some hardline Muslim groups. Mulook was the only lawyer willing to risk their wrath to send the former police bodyguard to the gallows.

The two cases are linked: part of Taseer’s stance on the blasphemy law had been his call to see Bibi released.

Islamabad’s decision to execute Qadri on February 29 brought tens of thousands of people into the streets chanting slogans supporting the laws — and calling for Bibi to be hanged.

On Sunday, Qadri supporters marched on the capital amid violent clashes with police and staged a four-day sit-in.

They vowed they were ready to die unless the government meets their demands, including Bibi’s execution — though they dispersed Wednesday peacefully.

Activists said the protests placed Bibi in peril, while intelligence officials warned Mulook to stay home after Qadri’s execution, he said. But the day of Qadri’s funeral he had an important meeting in Islamabad.

Driving along the historic Grand Trunk Road towards the capital he found himself caught in a wave of hundreds of Qadri supporters heading for the funeral.

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It was a terrifying moment.

“If they had discovered who I was they would have attacked me like vultures, making pieces of me,” he said.

Qadri is a “goldmine” for the mullahs, Mulook said.

“They were losing their space in society so they were declaring each other infidels. But now they have found one common element… Mumtaz Qadri.”

Now his colleagues look at him with distaste when he walks in the courtroom.

“Friends told me that you are crazy,” he said. “They said I was being an enemy to my own family.”

Pakistan has 17 people on death row for blasphemy, including Bibi, but has not executed anyone yet.

Mulook sees little hope, and warns the “Qadri phenomenon” will only grow.

He takes a fatalistic view towards his position: to give up the fight for Bibi’s life would be cowardly, and anyway he had already condemned himself when he successfully prosecuted Qadri.

“I said to myself, look, you have already done the damage … It is time to stand up for this poor woman.”

Meanwhile Bibi, whom he visited recently in prison in the central city of Multan, is in good spirits, he said.

“I spent two and half hours with her… I saw her eyes shining and I can say that she is hopeful, very hopeful.”

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Reader Comments (11)

  • eddieded
    Mar 31, 2016 - 11:07AM

    Bravo to this brave man for having the courage to do what is right…these stupid blasphemy laws have been abused many times over and it is time to stop this abuse…I salute the integrity this man has shown for his profession and his pursuit of justice for his client…Recommend

  • Ahmed
    Mar 31, 2016 - 11:09AM

    It is obvious he does not want publicity. Why do you want to get him killed ET?Recommend

  • AH
    Mar 31, 2016 - 11:15AM

    This man is a true mujahid. I hope he lives a long healthy life and gets that poor innocent woman some justice. Inshallah.Recommend

  • TooTrue
    Mar 31, 2016 - 12:33PM

    You, sir, are a real hero of Pakistan. Long may you prosper. I wish our politicians had your courage and conviction for then this would be a far better place. Recommend

  • Acorn Guts
    Mar 31, 2016 - 12:34PM

    These are the unsung heroes of our country that are still keeping things sane for us all. Bravo and Godspeed, I salute your bravery.Recommend

  • omar
    Mar 31, 2016 - 12:41PM

    Saif-ul-Mulook …you are a man of honor and a true Muslim, everyone is entitled to justice, standing by the oppressed is true sign of character and ethics of your profession. May God protect you and your family. Amen. stay safe.Recommend

  • observer
    Mar 31, 2016 - 1:41PM

    After Government’s ‘Successful Negotiations’ with the pro Qadri crowd, her fate seems to be sealed.Recommend

  • Ayesha
    Mar 31, 2016 - 2:20PM

    In a country or society where 99% people are Muslims, we have a great responsibility to deal with the people of minority religion. Can our Mullah preachers become more considerate, kind and follow the true spirit of Islam – Forgiveness and Pardon. Recommend

  • ali
    Mar 31, 2016 - 3:21PM

    Hero!! enough saidRecommend

  • Mar 31, 2016 - 4:14PM

    It is better to use words wisely. explain the blasphemy laws of Pakistan.. Recommend

  • curious2
    Mar 31, 2016 - 7:15PM

    If your going to publish his name why not establish a method where people can provide donations for him? Such courage should be rewarded.Recommend

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