Confusion over images claiming acquitted Christian woman has left Pakistan

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Pakistan’s government struggling with a crisis surrounding a Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy charges after eight years on death row says it is having to deal with fake images on social media purporting to show her leaving the country.

Information minister Fawad Chaudhry slammed the postings on Monday, one of which claims to show Asia Bibi meeting Pope Francis. The photo is actually of Ms Bibi’s daughter from two years ago.

Mr Chaudhry says the images misidentifying Ms Bibi prompted death threats to a politician in one photograph.

Radical Islamists have blocked Ms Bibi’s freedom and demanded she be publicly executed. They have also filed a petition to repeal her Supreme Court acquittal.

The government says Ms Bibi remains in Pakistan, at a secret location for her own protection, until the review process is finished.

Supporters of Pakistani religious parties rally against the acquittal of Asia Bibi
Supporters of Pakistani religious parties rally against the acquittal of Asia Bibi (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

He has defended the Supreme Court judges who on October 21 acquitted the 54-year-old mother-of-five of blasphemy charges but has also acquiesced to Islamists that the acquittal be reviewed in an appeal process.

Blasphemy is a highly charged issue in Pakistan, where mere allegations or accusations that someone had insulted the Prophet Mohammed can incite mobs into a frenzy of violence. The charge also carries the death penalty and critics say the controversial blasphemy law is abused to settle religious scores.

Ms Bibi and her family have always maintained her innocence and say she never insulted the prophet.

Mr Chaudhry said the images prompted death threats to Fazal Khan from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Party. The politician’s constituency is in a deeply conservative region in the country’s north-west.

“People can even be killed because of such fake postings,” Mr Chaudhry said. The pictures were widely circulated on social media in Pakistan and shared on several local journalists’ groups, even a police and a media group.

“We are trying to seek co-operation from Twitter and Facebook against such fake news,” Mr Chaudhry added.

Ms Bibi’s ordeal dates back to 2009 when she went to fetch water for herself and fellow farm workers. An argument took place after two Muslim women refused to drink from the same container as Ms Bibi, who is Roman Catholic. The women later said Ms Bibi had insulted the Prophet Mohammed, and she was charged with blasphemy. She was put on trial, convicted and sentenced to death in 2010.

Following Ms Bibi’s acquittal last month, the founder of the radical Tehreek-e-Labbak Party, Mohammed Afzal Qadri, issued a fatwa calling for the death of the three Supreme Court judges who handed down the acquittal and the overthrow of Mr Khan’s government. He also incited the military to mutiny.

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