Death row Christian woman has left Pakistan, lawyer says

FILE PHOTO: Governor of the Punjab Province Salman Taseer is reflected as he speaks to the media after meeting with Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who has been sentenced to death for blasphemy, at a jail in Sheikhupura, located in Pakistan's Punjab Province November 20, 2010. REUTERS/Asad Karim/File Photo

By Saad Sayeed

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – A Pakistani Christian woman who spent eight years on death row falsely charged with blasphemy has left the country, her lawyer and media said on Wednesday, more than six months after she was acquitted by Pakistan’s top court.

Pakistani and Canadian officials have not officially commented on Asia Bibi’s reported departure, perhaps due to the sensitive nature of her case.

Bibi’s release in October sparked rioting by hardline Islamists, who rejected the Supreme Court’s verdict and warned Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government that she must not be allowed to leave the country.

They also called for Bibi, who has been staying at an undisclosed location under tight security, to be killed.

“I have inquired within available channels, and according to them she has left for Canada,” Bibi’s lawyer, Saif Ul Malook, told Reuters.

Pakistani TV channels Geo and ARY, citing unidentified sources, also reported Bibi had left the country.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry did not respond to requests for comment. A Canadian government spokeswoman said in an emailed statement: “Global Affairs Canada has no comment.”

In November, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country was in talks with Pakistan about helping Bibi, whose family are believed to be outside Pakistan. She is widely expected to seek asylum and diplomats say she will have no problems.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court in January upheld its earlier verdict to free Bibi, but Pakistani officials have worried that her sudden departure could trigger further riots.

Islamists have criticized the government and the military for caving in to what they call pressure from the Western world.

Bibi, a farm worker and a mother of four, was convicted in 2010 of making derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbors working in the fields with her objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim.

Her case has outraged Christians worldwide and has been a source of division within Pakistan, where two politicians who sought to help her were assassinated, including Punjab province governor Salman Taseer, shot by his own bodyguard.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said it was “fantastic news that Asia Bibi appears to have left Pakistan safely”.

Hunt, who is due to discuss persecution of Christians with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, head of the Church of England, tweeted that Bibi’s freedom “shows that with concerted effort the right thing can happen”.

(Additional reporting by Syed Raza Hassan; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Freed Pakistani Christian needs German passport to leave: lawyer

FILE PHOTO: Saiful Mulook, lawyer for Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi, at a news conference in The Hague, the Netherlands, November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Eva Plevier/File Photo

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – The lawyer for Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian acquitted of capital blasphemy charges, appealed on Tuesday to Germany to give her whole family citizenship to start a new life in Europe.

Saiful Mulook told a news conference in Frankfurt that Bibi was now free but she and her family needed a passport to leave the country.

Bibi, 53, was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 over allegations she made derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbors objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim.

The Supreme Court acquitted her last month.

“The whole world is asking why she’s not coming,” Mulook told reporters. “The answer is first that to leave a country you need a visa or you require a passport of another country.”

“If the German chancellor directs her ambassador to give a passport to her, her husband and her two daughters conferring German nationality, nobody can stop her for one second because she is no longer Pakistani,” he added.

“So far, no government has come forward in such an open and free manner,” he said.

It was unclear why citizenship, rather than a visa, was necessary for her to leave Pakistan, though Mulook said pressure from religious extremists was making it harder for Islamabad to arrange her departure.

She and her family are staying at a safe house in Pakistan, despite offers of asylum from countries including Canada.

Mulook said the status of a friend of Bibi’s husband, who has a wife and five daughters, whom he would like to join them, was a sticking point. Another wife of Bibi’s husband and her three daughters were not seeking to leave Pakistan with Bibi, he added.

German officials have said that they and a number of other countries are in talks with Bibi’s family and the Pakistani government to find a way of rehousing her.

Mulook, who has himself sought refuge in the Netherlands after being threatened for taking on Bibi’s case, said Bibi had no preference as to which country she would travel to for asylum.

The German government had no immediate comment on the request for a passport.

(Reporting by Reuters Television; Writing by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Police, protesters clash in St. Louis after ex-cop acquitted of murdering black man

Police, protesters clash in St. Louis after ex-cop acquitted of murdering black man

By Valerie Volcovici and Kenny Bahr

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) – Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets during clashes with protesters in St Louis early on Saturday after a white former policeman was acquitted of murdering a black suspect.

A peaceful rally over Friday’s not guilty verdict turned violent after police confronted a small group of demonstrators – three years after the shooting of another black suspect in the nearby suburb of Ferguson stirred nationwide anger and debate.

Officers fired tear gas as people broke windows at a library and two restaurants and threw bricks and water bottles at officers. Protesters also threw rocks and paint at the home of St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, said Acting Police Commissioner Lawrence O’Toole.

Nine city officers and a state trooper were injured and at least 23 people were taken into custody, he said.

Former city policeman Jason Stockley, 36, was found not guilty of the first-degree murder of Anthony Lamar Smith, 24, shot to death on Dec. 20, 2011.

After the ruling, around 600 protesters marched from the courthouse through downtown St. Louis, chanting “No justice, no peace” and “Hey hey! Ho ho! These killer cops have got to go!” Some held “Black Lives Matter” signs.

“I’m sad, I’m hurt, I’m mad,” Reverend Clinton Stancil of the Wayman AME Church in St. Louis said by telephone. “We haven’t made any progress since Ferguson, that’s clear. Cops can still kill us with impunity.”

Men protest outside the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department after the not guilty verdict in the murder trial of Jason Stockley, a former St. Louis police officer, charged with the 2011 shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, who was black, in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., September 15, 2017. REUTERS/Whitney Curtis

Men protest outside the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department after the not guilty verdict in the murder trial of Jason Stockley, a former St. Louis police officer, charged with the 2011 shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, who was black, in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., September 15, 2017. REUTERS/Whitney Curtis

“NO PROGRESS SINCE FERGUSON”

Ferguson became the focal point of a national debate on race relations after white officer Darren Wilson shot dead black teenager Michael Brown on Aug. 9, 2014. Protests and clashes broke out after a grand jury cleared the officer, giving rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.

After Friday’s verdict, one group of demonstrators tried to climb onto Interstate 40 but was blocked by police. Another group blocked an intersection by sitting down in the street for six minutes of silence.

After most protesters drifted away, a smaller group of people police described as “agitators” lingered on the streets in an upscale neighborhood near the mayor’s house. The group taunted officers who arrived in riot gear by the busload.

“Reports of bricks thrown at police. That’s not protest. That’s a crime. We stand behind our officers. This violence won’t be tolerated,” Missouri Governor Eric Greitens said on Twitter.

Smith was shot five times in his car after trying to flee Stockley and his partner, following an alleged drug deal, authorities said.

Prosecutors said that during the pursuit, Stockley could be heard saying on an internal police car video he was going to kill Smith.

At Stockley’s direction, his partner, who was driving, slammed the police cruiser into Smith’s vehicle and they came to a stop. Stockley then approached Smith’s car and opened fire with his service weapon, court documents said.

The former policeman believed Smith was armed, defense attorneys said, and a gun was found in the car. But prosecutors argued Stockley planted the weapon and that the gun had only Stockley’s DNA on it.

Stockley’s attorney, Neil Bruntrager, said his client was relieved at the verdict. “It’s been a long road for him,” Bruntrager said.

St. Louis prosecutor Kimberly Gardner called on protesters to avoid violence.

“I understand the verdict has created anger and frustration for many in our community,” she told reporters at the courthouse.

Stockley waived his right to a jury trial, allowing the judge to decide. He left the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department in 2013 and was arrested last year.

Smith’s family settled a wrongful death lawsuit against the city for $900,000 in 2013, according to Al Watkins, an attorney for Smith’s fiancée, Christina Wilson.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago, Chris Kenning in Louisville, Kentucky and Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Andrew Heavens)