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UN Denies Forcing Lawyer To Leave Pakistan After Defending Asia Bibi

Pakistani lawyer Saiful Mulook gives a press conference in The Hague on November 5.
Pakistani lawyer Saiful Mulook gives a press conference in The Hague on November 5.

The United Nations has rejected a claim that it forced a Pakistani lawyer to leave the country after successfully defending a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy.

The lawyer, Saiful Mulook, flew to the Netherlands amid protests across Pakistan by hard-line Islamists demanding the execution of Asia Bibi, whose conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court on October 31.

In a deal with the hard-line Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) party that ended the protests but came under criticism from Western countries and human rights groups, the Pakistani government on November 3 indicated that it will bar Bibi from traveling abroad pending a "review" of the Supreme Court’s decision to acquit her.

Bibi, a mother of five, had spent eight years on death row for allegedly insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad before being acquitted. She has denied the charges.

Mulook told a news conference in The Hague on November 5 that he was "put on a plane against my wishes" even though he had refused to leave the country without ensuring that his client was out of prison.

He said he contacted a UN official in Islamabad after protests incited by the TLP brought the country to a virtual standstill.

"And then [the UN] and the European nations' ambassadors in Islamabad, they kept me for three days and then put me on a plane against my wishes," he said.

However, UN spokesperson Eri Kaneko said on November 6 that the UN in Pakistan "extended its assistance to Mr. Mulook at his request and did not force him to leave the country against his wishes."

"Nor can the UN force someone to leave Pakistan against his or her will," Kaneko added.

Bibi's husband, Ashiq Masih, has pleaded for asylum from Western countries, saying his family is in great danger in Pakistan.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland on November 6 urged Pakistan to take "all measures necessary to ensure the safety and security of Asia Bibi and her family."

"It is a very important issue, a central priority for our government," Freeland said.

Meanwhile, Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini pledged to help Bibi leave her country, saying, "It is not permissible that in 2018 someone can risk losing their life for a ... hypothesis of blasphemy."

Insulting Islam is punishable by death in Pakistan, and the mere rumor of blasphemy can lead to lynchings by mobs.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters
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