Christmas is only a few days away, and Christians throughout the world are busy with preparations, tall buildings are decorated with colourful lights, and Christmas songs are being played in the shopping malls, offices and shops. Churches are busy organising Christmas programmes like carol services and nativity plays, and people are busy shopping for presents for their families and loved ones. But I am not sure if this really matters for Asia Bibi, who despite being acquitted on 31 October by Pakistan’s Supreme Court, remains in custody on the pretext of her being offered protection. There are reports that after being released from jail Bibi was flown to Islamabad, but nobody has information about what happened afterwards. Like many others, I believe that she is still in Pakistan because of the review petition and another petition calling for her name to be in the exit control list (ECL) which has been filed in the Supreme Court. While others say, it is because of pressure from the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and the agreement signed with the government. In a deal with TLP to end the protests, that Pakistani government agreed to a review a petition of Bibi’s blasphemy case. Extremists are hoping to overturn the judgment and want to see Asia Bibi executed. Though senior leadership of TLP has been arrested, the government still seems bound to their agreement and hesitant to release Bibi to go to a country of her choice and start a new life with her family without any fear from these extremists Though senior leadership of TLP has been arrested, the government still seems bound to their agreement and hesitant to release Bibi to go to a country of her choice and start a new life with her family without any fear from these extremists. It is not easy for anyone to lead a normal life after living in solitary confinement and I have met a few victims who spent a long time in solitary confinement like Ranjha Masih. We all know that Asia Bibi and her family will never be safe and will never be able to lead normal lives as free people in Pakistan, and Pakistan won’t be able to protect them for a lifetime, as she needs protection around the clock. According to some reports, hardliners are already hunting for Bibi. Also, Pakistan has no history of protecting blasphemy victims, and therefore the majority of them have had to flee to other countries to save their lives, and several were killed. We shouldn’t forget that the constable who killed Samuel Masih who was admitted in the Gulab Devi hospital, Lahore, for tuberculosis treatment, was on duty to guard him and killed him with a brick cutter. He then proudly accepted what he had done and said he had done nothing wrong as he was fulfilling his religious duty. We heard the same story from Malik Mumtaz Qadri who killed the then Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, and proudly admitted his crime, telling the court, “I acted against a blasphemer as per the guidelines of the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammed (SAW).” Two ex-High court judges supported his arguments. He is treated like a hero and, therefore, when he was sentenced to death by Judge Syed Pervez Ali Shah, the lawyers and extremists surrounded his court and threatened to kill the judge, forcing him to flee Pakistan. Bibi’s lawyer, Saif Ul Malook, has already sought sanctuary in the Netherlands and now appears concerned about Bibi and her family’s safety. No matter what the reason, I don’t think the review petition will be heard very soon. Chief justice Saqib Nisar is leaving his office early next year, and I am not sure if Bibi’s review petition is on his priority list as he already has so much on his plate to finish, and is working tirelessly. It would be better if the Present Chief justice would finish it once and for all before leaving his office, free Bibi to go to a country of her choice and help the government to come out of this conundrum. It is beyond my understanding why when several other countries are willing to accept her, our government is hesitant. I hope this is not a matter of honour or pride, but the reality is our government has no experience of protecting such victims, and they shouldn’t even try this adventure especially in the case of Bibi, as they already have so many other issues in front of them. Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament, called for Asia and her family to be allowed to leave Pakistan. He said: “I call on the Pakistani authorities to issue the necessary travel documents. European rules provide protection for those who are threatened because of their faith.” The Canadian and several other western governments are willing to give asylum to Bibi and her family, so I don’t understand why it is so difficult for the government of Pakistan. Keeping in view the present situation and the silence from the government, it seems Bibi’s fate still has to be decided, and despite being acquitted by the Supreme Court, Bibi will have to spend another Christmas in incarceration. It will be disappointing for her supporters worldwide who prayed and campaigned for years for her release and now that she has been released, nobody knows why she is still under the government’s protection. Asia is a fan of Christmas lights because she thinks Christmas is festival of lights and perhaps she is right, but sadly she cannot see Christmas lights and maybe there are no decorations where she is being held under tight security. Bibi believes that Christmas and Christmas cake are entwined and therefore when at one Christmas Zenobia, who used to clean her cell, handed her a little packed wrapped in an aluminium foil she open it like an eager child. When she told Asia it was a little piece of Christmas cake, her eyes filled with tears. Asia has spent so many days without seeing the light and many long lonely nights. Many nights she couldn’t sleep because of fear for her life, as according to her one night another lady charged under the blasphemy law, Zarmina, was killed. She had been attacked herself, but survived. Although Asia has been released from prison, she is still not free if she cannot attend Christmas mass, cannot see the Christmas lights and if she cannot have her Christmas cake even after being released. This time is equally difficult for her and her family. The government must not add to her misery but help her to forget the painful memories of all those years, and also let her have Christmas cake this year. Otherwise, this protection is not much different than her imprisonment. The writer is a freelance columnist Published in Daily Times, December 21st 2018.