December 15, 2018
Saif ul-Malook on fearing for his life and defending Asia Bibi from blasphemy
Saif ul-Malook greets me in the hallway of his daughter’s home. Pakistani hospitality dictates that a guest should not go hungry, so there are plates of samosas, kebabs and biscuits. I am also of Pakistani heritage, so know that etiquette dictates that I must politely refuse a few times — or until I can no longer ignore my rumbling stomach.
Malook was flown out of Pakistan, because his life was in danger. Since leaving the country, he has kept a low profile in his daughter’s home, a modest detached house in a cul-de-sac off a busy road in a UK city. He asks for the location not to be revealed.
The reason his life is in danger is because Malook was a key figure in one of the most renowned cases in recent times. He was the lawyer who defended Asia Bibi, a poor and illiterate 47-year-old Catholic woman who faced being hanged for allegedly insulting the Prophet Mohammed.
In 2009, Bibi was at her work on a farm when she stopped to drink some water from a well, using someone else’s cup. She was told that she could not share utensils with a Muslim because she was ‘unclean’. This led to an argument about religion, and Bibi and her family were later beaten by a mob who extracted a ‘confession’.
She was then arrested and imprisoned for more than a year before being formally charged. She was the first woman in Pakistan to be sentenced to death for blasphemy, and would have been the first to be executed for blasphemy under the current law. Her case sparked international outrage. Her family visited the UK to appeal for help, and even met the Pope.
When Malook became involved in 2014, the Supreme Court granted leave to file for an appeal, and the death penalty was temporarily suspended in 2015. Then in October this year, Malook received a call from the Supreme Court telling him that the three-judge bench would be hearing the final legal appeal. He had just two days to prepare, but he had been ready for this case for four years.