Pakistani lawyer who represented Asia bibi says he faces threats to his life. A Pakistani lawyer who has successfully overturned several convictions for “blasphemy” said he believes his life is at risk from extremists. Saif ul Malook oversaw the innocence of a Christian couple who were most recently sentenced to death.
Malook shared social media posts with the BBC, demanding “execution” for acquittal.
Blasphemy is a subject that arouses deep emotions in Muslim-majority Pakistan and is legally punishable by death. No one has been executed for the crime, but dozens of people charged with blasphemy have been killed by vigilantes.
Human rights groups say the country’s blasphemy laws often unfairly target religious minorities and can be used for personal strife. Earlier this month, a high court in Lahore overturned the convictions of Christian couple Shah Gulf Tha Kausar and her husband, Shaf Kat Emanuel, on a lack of evidence.
The two were sentenced to death in 2014 for sending profane text messages insulting the Prophet Muhammad. They claimed to be innocent. Kausar’s brother told the BBC last year that he doubts the couple will be able to read enough to write a message.
The couple’s lawyer, Malook, previously represented the Christian town of Asia Bibi, where he spent eight years on death row in a case that provoked international condemnation. Bibi eventually flew abroad after being acquitted by the Pakistani Supreme Court in 2018. The legal verdict has led to large and violent protests by thousands of followers of hardline clergy.
But Malook, the most prominent lawyer defending blasphemy cases in Pakistan, told the BBC that the current threat to him is what he considers “the most dangerous” he has ever received. “This also didn’t happen in the Asia Bibi case,” he said. “Now they see [extremists] as the only obstacles in their path.”
He accused the government of not providing adequate security. “Even the secretary of the Pakistani government did not contact me,” he said. Pakistani officials did not respond to requests for comment.
It’s not clear how serious the specific threat to Malook is, but in 2014 a lawyer representing another blasphemy accused was shot and killed. Rashid Rehman was sitting in his office when he was shot and two of his assistants were injured.
Pakistan’s blasphemy convictions by lower courts are often overturned on appeal. Human rights activists say more junior judges are threatening to convict suspects despite the case’s flaws.
Hearings have been repeatedly delayed in the Lahore High Court in the case of Kausar, a Christian school protector, and her paralyzed husband, Emmanuel. Malook suggested that the judge was concerned about the possibility of targeting him if the pair were acquitted.
But last April, the European Parliament passed a resolution urging Pakistan to reform its blasphemy laws, citing concerns, particularly over the Kausar-Emanuel incident. Malook told the BBC that the case was not highlighted internationally. He feared that the appeal would be postponed indefinitely.