Fears about the safe release of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was recently saved from death row in Pakistan after being accused of blasphemy against Islam, remain strong despite assurances from U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt that her release is being negotiated.
Hunt told the British Parliament last Wednesday: "Making sure that she is safe and has somewhere safe to go is a top priority for this government. We have had numerous discussions in private with [the] Pakistani government about how to progress this. We are making progress and I'm very hopeful that this will have a positive outcome."
The 54-year-old Christian woman’s saga began nearly 10 years ago when two Muslim farm laborers accused her of drinking from the same container as them and refused to drink after her because she's a Christian.
A conflict ensued and Bibi was accused of insulting the Islamic prophet Muhammad. In Pakistan, where 97 percent of its 180 million inhabitants are Muslim, being charged with committing blasphemy against Islam is punishable by death.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan ultimately said there were many inconsistencies in the testimonies against Bibi and she was acquitted. But her acquittal incensed the Muslim community.
And the longer she remains in hiding in Pakistan, friends are worried she is exposing herself to more danger.
"Extremists could still harm Bibi," Obed Robert, a friend of Bibi's husband, Ashiq Masih, told DW.
"I think she is still in the country and has not left yet," Robert, who is a priest, said.
Shamoon Alfred Gill, vice-chairman of the Minorities Alliance Pakistan organization, also told the publication that as long as Bibi remains in Pakistan, her life will be in danger.
"We have requested our friends and civil society members to appeal to international organizations, as well as Pakistani authorities, to ensure Bibi's safe departure from the country," Gill told DW.
“I am missing her so much, I think about her all the time, and I speak to her on the phone all the time. I say to her, ‘Have faith in God, because if God can release you from jail, God can release you from where you are now. He will bring you out.’”
Bibi’s faithful daughter says even though she saw her mother through prison bars last October, she was never able to hug her and she is looking forward to doing that when her mother is released.
“When she comes, I will hug her and kiss her, and that day will be a very special day when my mummy arrives, and I know I will be very happy, and will thank God before anything else,” she said.
Eisham who lives with her sister, Esha, 21, also appealed directly to Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan, to release her mother: “I would like to tell him to think about us, and release my mother. We love Pakistan very much, and my mummy will never speak against Pakistan as she loves it too.”
Like her mother’s friends, Eisham says even though she is aware that Bibi has security, she remains concerned that that security could be compromised at any time as long as her mother remains in Pakistan.