A Pakistani lawyer, who fled to the Netherlands after receiving death threats for defending a Christian woman on blasphemy charges, has returned home, according to a media report.
Saiful Malook returned to the country on Saturday ahead of a Supreme Court hearing on January 29 to decide whether to allow an appeal against Asia Bibi’s acquittal on blasphemy charges, The Express Tribune reported.
Malook went to the Netherlands last year due to “security concerns” when violence broke out soon after Bibi’s acquittal. On returning, he told the paper that he would represent Bibi in the Supreme Court.
“I want to make it clear that I intend to permanently stay in Pakistan but there are still security concerns,” he said.
Malook also appealed to Prime Minister Imran Khan to provide him security in view of the threats he had received.
Bibi, a 47-year-old mother of four, who is now in protective custody, was convicted in 2010 after being accused of insulting Islam in a row with her neighbours. She always maintained her innocence, but spent most of the past eight years in solitary confinement.
She challenged the verdict in October 2014 in the Lahore High Court which upheld the death sentence.
The apex court’s decision to acquit her had sparked three-day-long mass protests led by the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP).
The protests were called off after the religio-political party reached an agreement with the government, the foremost condition of which was the placement of Bibi’s name on the Exit Control List.
The government, however, had only agreed to “initiate the legal process” to place her name on the list, while also agreeing that it would not oppose any review petitions being filed against the court judgement.
After her release from Multan’s women prison on November 7, Bibi was flown to Islamabad onboard a special aircraft. She was then taken to an undisclosed place amid tight security.
Authorities have remained tight-lipped about her movement and whereabouts for security reasons.
Her case has been deeply divisive in Pakistan where there is strong support for the controversial blasphemy laws.
The blasphemy laws were promulgated by former military dictator Ziaul Haq in 1980s. A person convicted under these laws is given death sentence.
Bibi was accused of committing blasphemy in 2009. She was convicted in 2010 by the trial court and her death sentence was maintained by the Lahore High Court in 2014.
Her case gained prominence when former governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province Salman Taseer was killed in 2011 for supporting her and criticising the blasphemy laws.