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Unsung hero: Aasia Bibi’s lawyer vows not to leave Pakistan despite threats

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Saiful Malook speaks to Ailia Zehra about the case and how difficult it was to defend a blasphemy accused.

Lawyer Saiful Malook who defended Christian woman Aasia Bibi against charges of blasphemy and got her acquitted says he has fears for his safety, but vows not to leave Pakistan, ‘come what may’.

“I have been made offers [of residency] by foreign ambassadors, but I feel this country needs me”, he says. Malook says minorities and underprivileged segments do not have access to good criminal lawyers in Pakistan and most don’t touch sensitive cases such as those involving blasphemy laws. “I will keep fighting for the rights of the aggrieved minorities of Pakistan who have been failed by the country’s justice system.”

Malook returned to Pakistan a day before the final hearing in case against Aasia Bibi’s acquittal. He had to fly to the Netherlands in the wake of violent protests by workers and supporters of extremist group Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) against the Supreme Court verdict acquitting Aasia Bibi in October.

Malook says when he decided to defend Aasia Bibi, many colleagues and friends opposed his decision due to fears for his security. “Think of your kids”, they would tell me, but I knew what I was doing, he said.

Saiful Malook was also the prosecutor in case against former Punjab governor Salman Taseer’s murderer Mumtaz Qadri. The trial ended in Qadri being convicted and executed for his crime.

Recalling the day Taseer was killed, Malook says the then chief justice Iftikhar Chahudhry was sitting with some lawyers including him and late Asma Jahangir in his chamber, discussing how vicious and barbaric the murder was. “Who will dare risk his life by prosecuting Taseer’s murderer”, he asked. Malook replied he would.

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He also laments that no lawyer stepped forward against Qadri and that Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leadership was nowhere to be seen at Salmaan Taseer’s funeral. “No cleric was willing to lead his funeral. They all just wanted to save their lives and prove their religiosity.”

Malook recalls being asked by the then provincial law minister Khalil Sandhu to take up Aasia Bibi’s case when she lost her appeal in the Lahore High Court (LHC). “He told me you have already put your life in danger by sending Qadri to the gallows.”

Saiful Malook thinks if his willingness to defend a blasphemy accused despite the sensitivity of the case is duly acknowledged, more lawyers will step forward to defend the hapless victims of blasphemy law.

Talking about the SC verdict, he says Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa gave a clear message to all those who misuse blasphemy law and play the religion card. “The false witnesses were rebuked and the CJ made it clear to them that it was the last time their absurdity was being tolerated.”

When asked how Aasia Bibi’s family reacted to the news of her acquittal, Malook revealed her husband was least interested in her acquittal. “Aasia’s husband did not want to pursue the case. Not once did he call or message me during the case or after the acquittal”, he said.

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