ISLAMABAD: Asia Bibi will celebrate Christmas under guard, despite being cleared of the blasphemy charges that kept her in jail since 2010.
Bibi – a former labourer who was on death row for eight years – remains a prime target, with some still calling for her blood and the government refusing to reveal her location out of fear for her safety.
“It’s too dangerous … People want to kill her,” said Yousaf Hadayat, a resident from one of Islamabad’s impoverished Christian ghettos, littered this week by a smattering of Santa hats and Christmas trees.
Security this Christmas, like many before it, will be tight with the government set to deploy armed forces to the Christian colonies.
The Supreme Court overturned Bibi’s death sentence for blasphemy in October, and she has legally been a free woman ever since. But the ruling ignited days of violent demonstrations that paralysed large swathes of the country, with enraged protesters calling for her beheading, mutiny within the powerful military and the assassination of the country’s top judges.
The government launched a crackdown on the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party – the group driving the violent protests – 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 SC’s judgement.
Bibi, who is seeking asylum abroad, is believed to be in protective custody withing the country as the review continues.
But there is no clear timeline for when it will be completed.
A government spokesperson refused to comment on its status, saying only that the matter is with the court.
Analyst Fasi Zaka warned that the longer Bibi remains in limbo, the greater the danger. “For some elements if they don’t have access to Asia Bibi they’ll find stand-ins for their vengeance,” he told AFP.
Since her acquittal speculation has been rife that an asylum deal with a European or North American country may be in the works.
Many residents of the 100 Quarters Colony in Islamabad cautioned against Bibi’s release, saying her safety would only be guaranteed once she was granted asylum in a foreign country.
“No, no. She cannot stay,” said resident Hadayat.
Back in the 100 Quarters Colony, residents said their thoughts were with a mother who has already spent many Christmases in solitary confinement.
“Christmas is celebrated with near and dear ones, and not in custody,” said Christmas decoration seller Amjab Burgkat. “There are security fears, but she should celebrate Christmas with her family.”