An asylum application has been filed in the Netherlands for Asia Bibi, the Christian Pakistani woman acquitted last week of blasphemy charges, her lawyer told CNN on Thursday.
The application was submitted for Bibi, her husband and two daughters, said attorney Saiful Malook, who fled Pakistan this week to the Netherlands.
However, a spokesperson for the Dutch foreign ministry told CNN that Bibi, who remains in Pakistan, can only file an application for asylum from within the Netherlands.
“The case of Asia Bibi has the fullest attention of the Dutch government,” the spokesperson added. “We are working closely and are in contact with other countries on the matter.”
Bibi was acquitted of blasphemy charges in late October by Pakistan’s Supreme Court following eight years on death row.
She was moved Thursday from her jail cell to an undisclosed location in another part of the country, intelligence sources in Pakistan told CNN.
Bibi is with her family in a secure place, waiting to leave Pakistan, a spokesperson for Italy’s Aid to the Church in Need, or ACN, said.
Bibi is legally free to leave the country, Pakistan’s foreign office spokesman said earlier Thursday.
“She is a free woman now,” Mohammad Faisal said. “Her writ is being heard. When a decision is made, she will go wherever she wants to go. It is a free country; she is a free national. She can go wherever she wants to go. No one can object to that. If a free national of Pakistan wants to go somewhere, he/she has to get a visa and go. Nothing odd about that.”
Violent protests orchestrated by the Islamist movement Tehreek-e-Labbaik, or TLP, broke out in Islamabad and Lahore following the Supreme Court’s ruling.
The demonstrations were subdued through a deal between the Pakistani government and the TLP in which the government agreed not to oppose a review petition filed against the judgment.
The government also agreed not to oppose a TLP application to add Bibi to a list preventing her from leaving Pakistan, as well as to release everyone detained in connection with the protests.
Bibi’s appeal drew Popes’ support
Bibi, a mother of five from Punjab province, was sentenced in 2010 after she was accused of defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammed during an argument a year earlier with Muslim colleagues.
The workers had refused to drink from a bucket of water Bibi had touched because she was not Muslim. At the time, Bibi said the case was a matter of women who didn’t like her “taking revenge.”
Under Pakistan’s penal code, the offense of blasphemy is punishable by death or life imprisonment. Widely criticized by international human rights groups, the law has been used disproportionately against minority religious groups in the country and to go after journalists critical of the Pakistani religious establishment.
Bibi’s case has attracted widespread outrage and support from Christians worldwide, particularly Catholics.
When her family met with Pope Francis in February at the Vatican, the Pontiff reportedly described Bibi as a “martyr,” according to ACN President Alessandro Mondeduro.
Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, had also called for Bibi’s release.
In her 2012 book, “Get Me Out of Here,” Bibi included a letter to her family urging them not to “lose courage or faith in Jesus Christ.”