United Nations, Nov 7: United Nations has outrightly 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.
Mulook told a news conference in The Hague on November 5 that he was ‘put on a plane against his wishes’ even though he had refused to leave the country without ensuring that his client was out of prison, radio free Europe said in a report. 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 kept me for three days and then put me on a plane against my wishes," he said.
However, UN spokesperson Eri Kaneko said on Tuesday 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.
This particular case has highlighted two issues with the draconian blasphemy laws in Pakistan, one is how allegations can be used to settle personal scores and secondly lower-court judges are unable to acquit innocent defendants for fear of their own lives.
Blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan, and the mere rumor of committing the crime has led to lynchings in the past. Approximately 40 people are believed to be on death row or serving a life sentence in Pakistan for blasphemy, according to a 2018 report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. UNI