The family of Asia Bibi, the Christian woman who spent eight years on death row in Pakistan for blasphemy before being acquitted three weeks ago, claim they are being hunted by extremists going house to house with their photographs to try to track them down.
John Pontifex, of Aid to the Church in Need UK (ACN), which has campaigned on Bibi’s behalf since she was convicted and sentenced to death in 2010, said he had been in almost daily contact with her family over the past three weeks and they were very frightened.
“They have told me that mullahs had been reported in their neighbourhood going from house to house showing photos of family members on their phones, trying to hunt them down,” he told the Guardian.
“The family have had to move from place to place to avoid detection. Sometimes they can only operate after sundown. They have had to cover their faces when they go out in public. They have had to remove the rosary that hangs from their car rear-view mirror for fear of attack.”
Pontifex said the family’s faith was “sustaining them in this time of acute danger”. He added: “They say that if they are not allowed to find a future outside Pakistan, the fear is that sooner or later something terrible might happen to them.”
The UK government has declined to answer questions about whether it is considering an offer of asylum, saying it does not want to further endanger Bibi and her family.
The former foreign secretary Boris Johnson and many other MPs and peers have called for the UK government to act. Some reports have suggested that the government fears a backlash among British Muslims of Pakistani heritage if it offers Bibi asylum.
Concerns have been raised that Britain might not be keen to offer the family asylum because of fears of triggering reprisals against its diplomatic buildings in Pakistan or sparking protests in the UK.
Outside the East London Mosque, several people told Sky News protests of some sort could be a possibility. One man said: “There are people who may support her coming but there’s a risk if she comes here it could cause protests. It could be 50-50. There are some people who might not say anything and there are some people who think this is not right. There is some risk of demonstrations if she comes here.”
The Muslim Council of Britain said in a tweet: “There are unfounded media reports that Pakistani national Asia Bibi is being denied asylum into the UK because of concerns from British Muslims. We find such insinuations to be as nonsensical as they are divisive. We see no reason why Asia Bibi should be denied asylum into the UK.”
Eisham Ashiq has spoken publicly for the first time since her mother Asia Bibi was acquitted of blasphemy.
Speaking from a safe house in Pakistan, Eisham said: “Thank you everybody for praying for my mother. I’d also like to thank the brave judges and the Pakistani justice system that recognise my mother’s innocence. I’d also like to thank all the governments – the Italian government that are concerned about our future and safety.
“Thanks God, she (Ms Bibi) is free and I hope our entire family is finally happy and free. Thanks to all of you for praying for my mother and persecuted Christians.”