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Appeal to Trump for Christian cleared of blasphemy but trapped in Pakistan

MULTAN, Pakistan -- The husband of a Christian woman acquitted eight years after being sentenced to death for blasphemy, but not released after countrywide protests, appealed on Sunday to U.S. President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May to help the family leave Pakistan. Asia Bibi's husband, Ashiq Masih, in a brief video message said they were in danger in Pakistan.

"Please help us, we are in trouble in Pakistan," Masih appealed to Mr. Trump and May. Masih had previously told The Associated Press by phone that he and his wife feared for their lives. "We are now living under an increased sense of fear."

Bibi's lawyer Saiful Malook has already fled the country for safety.

Bibi was arrested in 2009 after she was accused of blasphemy following a quarrel with two fellow female farm workers who refused to drink from a water container used by a Christian. A few days later, a mob accused her of insulting Islam's prophet, leading to her 2010 conviction. Bibi's family has always maintained her innocence and says she never insulted the prophet.

Insulting Islam is punishable by death in Pakistan, and the mere rumor of doing so can incite lynchings.

Pakistan's top court acquitted Bibi on Wednesday of the charges carrying the death penalty, infuriating hard-line Islamists who held three days of nationwide protests demanding her execution. The enraged protesters torched scores of vehicles, blocked highways and attacked government and public property; a radical cleric also threatened to kill the three judges who acquitted Bibi. According to the Reuters news agency, Cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, who leads the Islamist Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) party, had his Twitter account suspended on Monday for inciting violence.

Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman, looks on as the governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, speaks to reporters at a jail in Sheikhupura, Pakistan, Nov. 20, 2010.
Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman, looks on as the governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, speaks to reporters at a jail in Sheikhupura, Pakistan, Nov. 20, 2010. Reuters

The protests ended after the government agreed to impose a travel ban on Bibi and allow her case to be reviewed. A review petition was filed in the Supreme Court.

"There will be a war if they send Asia out of country," Rizvi warned after the deal was reached, according to Reuters.

Earlier in the day, police said over 150 people were arrested on charges of arson, vandalism and violence during the protests.

Senior police officer Nayab Haider said that police were using video clips to identify those involved in assaults, torching property and vehicles, and blocking highways.

Defending the police's actions, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the government cannot spare those involved in violence. He said that the government cleared blocked cities without any bloodshed.

Pakistani protesters shout slogans against Asia Bibi, a Christian woman facing death sentence for blasphemy, at a protest in Karachi in this October 13, 2016 file photo.  Getty

"No government can tolerate a rebellion against the state," Chaudhry said.

Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari tweeted that "appeasement to 'avoid bloodshed' sends a dangerous message to non-state actors and undermines the concept of democratic peaceful protest."

"The State has to enforce Rule of Law, Constitution and stand by state institutions especially when they are targeted" Mazari added.

Also Sunday, some two thousands supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami party held a protest march in southern port city of Karachi against the acquittal of Bibi but they remained peaceful.

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