What next for Asia Bibi? It seems everyone in Pakistan linked to this story may be in danger

Day after day, many journalists do the kind of work that is done by detectives.

No, they don’t do hands-on inspections of crime scenes or natural disasters (although I have heard of that happening, in a few rare cases). Instead, reporters find themselves working through a mental equation that resembles the following.

(1) What has happened in this story so far?

(2) Looking back, what has happened in similar stories in the past?

(3) What do “stakeholders” — people intimately involved in the story — think will happen next?

(4) OK, what could happen? What are the possibilities?

(5) What do I think is likely to happen next? How do I get ready to cover that?

By the way, are journalists covering this story in danger, if they ask questions about Bibi?

You see, sometimes you have to think ahead to what could happen in a story so you can be in the right place, with the right set of contacts, in order to cover it.

However, journalists have to be humble about this process, because we are often wrong. And surprises happen. You have to be honest enough to cover the story that unfolds, not just the one you thought was going to happen.

Case in point? Let’s just say that the 2016 White House race didn’t turn out the way most scribes in elite zip codes thought that it would. Thus, they were not in a position to cover the story that happened. They ignored half of America. Click here for lots of background about a liberal journalist who was stunningly honest about that. The name: Liz Spayd.

During this week’s “Crossroads” podcast, host Todd Wilken and I worked our way through this process while looking at the news coverage of the acquittal of Asia Bibi in Pakistan. Click here to tune that in, or head over to iTunes and get it.

Bibi is, of course, the Catholic woman who was accused of making inflammatory remarks about Muhammad — thus violating that nation’s controversial blasphemy laws. Human-rights activists all over the world have for years been seeking her release.

So now she is free to go. End of story?

That’s when reporters start thinking about the hard realities in this story. What happens next?

Think about this BBC note about events in the past, information that mentioned in the GetReligion post I wrote the other day — “Asia Bibi acquitted, but is she safe? Fighting over blasphemy in Pakistan is far from over” — that served as our launching point this week.

Even after she is freed, the legacy of her case will continue. Shortly after her conviction a prominent politician, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, was murdered for speaking out in her support and calling for the blasphemy laws to be reformed.

The killer — Mumtaz Qadri — was executed, but has become a cult hero with a large shrine dedicated to him on the outskirts of Islamabad. His supporters also created a political party — campaigning to preserve the blasphemy laws — which gathered around two million votes in this year's general election.

It's the same party which many fear could be responsible for violent unrest in the coming days.

Stop and think about the implications of that.

Now think about this question: Who is guarding Bibi right now? If people who oppose the blasphemy laws can be killed by their guards — by representatives of the police and the government — what is the definition of “safe” in the complex reality that is Pakistan?

The unrest, you see, has become a reality. An update from the Associated Press offers some clues to what is going on.

The bottom line: Bibi and her family have been offered asylum outside of Pakistan. But how does she get there — alive?

ISLAMABAD (AP) — A Christian woman acquitted in Pakistan after eight years on death row for blasphemy plans to leave the country soon, her family said Thursday, and authorities said they arrested two prisoners last month for conspiring to kill her.

Radical Islamists mounted rallies across the country for a second day after Pakistan’s Supreme Court in a landmark ruling overturned the 2010 conviction against Asia Bibi for insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. The charge of blasphemy carries the death penalty in this majority Muslim nation.

Bibi’s acquittal posed a challenge to the government of Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Imran Khan, who came to power this summer partly by pursuing the Islamist agenda. He asked protesters not to “test the patience of the state.”

Is it safe to come out into the open, in an attempt to make it to an airport?

Is it safe to face guards in security at the airport?

What about trying to travel in a secure automobile caravan over a boarder? Who provides security, in a nation in which a majority of citizens back the use of these blasphemy laws? Military personnel from Pakistan? Local police? United Nations forces? The United States?

What happens when Bibi reaches the border? Can her family trust the border guards?

You get the idea: What could happen next in this story? What is likely to happen?

There is this, later in this AP report:

Bibi remained at an undisclosed location Thursday, where the 54-year-old mother of five was being held for security reasons, awaiting her formal release, her brother James Masih told The Associated Press. Masih said his sister simply would not be safe in Pakistan.

“She has no other option and she will leave the country soon,” he said. Masih would not disclose the country of her destination but both France and Spain have offered asylum. …

A female commando who is part of a team of police and paramilitary troops deployed to protect Bibi, told The Associated Press that Bibi was reading a Bible when the news about her acquittal was conveyed to her.

Bibi was wearing green and orange traditional Pakistani dress and a scarf when an AP reporter saw her at the facility. According to the female commando, who asked to remain unidentified as she was not authorized to speak to media, Bibi upon hearing news of her release said the judges gave her a new life and she was grateful to them.

Officials said Bibi is at a safe facility but that she still fears for her life and has trouble sleeping, fearing someone might harm her.

Stay tuned. And enjoy the podcast, if “enjoy” is the right word.

Please respect our Commenting Policy