Woman acquitted of blasphemy still can’t leave Pakistan

Aasia Bibi (C) has been transferred from a secret location near the capital to another in Karachi, but is still unable to leave the country to join her daughters in Canada. (File/AFP PHOTO /Director General Public Relation)
Updated 09 February 2019

Woman acquitted of blasphemy still can’t leave Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: A Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy after spending eight years on death row in Pakistan has been transferred from a secret location near the capital to another in Karachi, but is still unable to leave the country to join her daughters in Canada, a friend said Saturday.
Aman Ullah, who spoke to Aasia Bibi by telephone Friday, said the 54-year-old Bibi is being held in a room in the southern port city. He said Bibi, who faces death threats by extremists, is frustrated and frightened, uncertain of when she will be able to leave Pakistan.
“She has no indication of when she will leave ... they are not telling her why she cannot leave,” said Ullah, who fled the country Friday after receiving threats from extremists angered by his assistance to Bibi, which began while she was on death row.
Ullah has been a liaison between Bibi and European diplomats, who have sought to assist her. The Associated Press spoke to Bibi by telephone with Ullah’s assistance following her October acquittal, which was upheld last month.
Bibi’s ordeal began in 2009 when two fellow farmworkers refused to drink from the same container as a Christian woman. There was a quarrel and the two Muslim women later accused Bibi of blasphemy. The Supreme Court judges said there were widespread inconsistencies in the testimony against Bibi, who has steadfastly maintained her innocence.
The acquittal should have given Bibi her freedom, but Ullah said diplomats were told that her departure from Pakistan, where she feels her life would be in danger, would come not in the short term, but “in the medium term.”
He said Bibi told him she is locked in one room of a house.
“The door opens at food time only,” said Ullah, and she is allowed to make phone calls in the morning and again at night. He said she usually calls her daughters.
Bibi’s husband is with her, he said.
“She is living with her family and given requisite security for safety,” Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said in an email.
He said the government was responsible for taking “all possible measures” to protect her and her family, adding that “she is a free citizen after her release from jail and can move anywhere in Pakistan or abroad.”
Bibi told Ullah the security detail assigned to her refuses to explain why she is still confined.
Bibi’s case has brought international attention to Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which carries an automatic death sentence for a conviction of insulting Islam. There have been widespread complaints that the law is used to settle scores and intimidate religious minorities, including Shiite Muslims.
The mere suggestion of blasphemy can incite mobs to kill. After Bibi’s October acquittal the radical Tehreek-e-Labbaik party called its followers onto the streets, where they protested for three days demanding Bibi’s immediate execution as well as the death of the judges who acquitted her. The party leadership also advocated overthrowing Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government and incited the military against the army chief.
Since then the party’s leadership has been arrested along with dozens of their supporters for inciting violence.
Ullah, a rights activist, first began aiding those falsely charged with blasphemy when his wife was wrongly accused, and has since helped several people gain their freedom. Bibi’s case brought him to the attention of religious radicals.
In recent months, he has been physically assaulted, gunmen have opened fire on his home, and several religious radicals attacked his home. Ullah said he fears being attacked again or charged with blasphemy.
Bibi hopes to be able to join her daughters in Canada, where they have been granted asylum.


Turkey tries to shed light on White Helmets founder’s death

Updated 12 November 2019

Turkey tries to shed light on White Helmets founder’s death

  • James Le Mesurier’s body was found near his home in Istanbul early Monday
  • Turkish police believe he fell to his death from his home and are investigating the circumstances

ANKARA: Turkish officials were performing an autopsy and other procedures Tuesday as they tried to understand how a former British officer who helped found the White Helmets volunteer aid group in Syria died.
James Le Mesurier’s body was found near his home in Istanbul early Monday by worshippers on their way to morning prayers. Turkish police believe he fell to his death from his home and are investigating the circumstances. Last week a top Russian official had claimed he was a spy, something Britain strongly denies.
The Istanbul chief prosecutor’s office said an autopsy and other procedures were underway at Istanbul’s Forensic Medicine Institute to determine “the exact cause” of his death. It also said police were still in the process of gathering security camera recordings near the scene and assessing them.
Earlier, Istanbul governor Ali Yerlikaya told reporters: “Our chief prosecutor’s office, our police are engaged in multifaceted efforts to shed light on the incident.”
Le Mesurier was the founder and CEO of May Day Rescue, which established and trained the White Helmets, also known as the Syria Civil Defense, a group of local humanitarian volunteers.
The group, which has had more than 3,000 volunteers in opposition-held areas, says it has saved thousands of lives since 2013 and documented Syrian government attacks on civilians and other infrastructure. The group has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, but has not won.
Last week, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused Le Mesurier of being a former British agent working in the Balkans and the Middle East. She alleged he had “been spotted all around the world, including in the Balkans and the Middle East.”
Karen Pierce, Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations, denied those allegations Monday, saying “the Russian charges against him, that came out of Foreign Ministry that he was a spy, are categorically untrue.”
She also said Britain would be “looking very closely” at the Turkish authorities’ investigation into Le Mesurier’s death.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported that he was 48 and had moved to Turkey with his wife four years ago.