Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman, acquitted of blasphemy after languishing in prison for eight years on death row has been freed from prison.
However, officials said on Thursday that she has been transferred to a secure location for fear of attacks.
The release of Asia Bibi, a mother of five, provoked hard-line Islamist party that has threatened to cripple economic activities with nationwide protests if her acquittal was not overturned.
Bibi, 53, was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 over allegations she made derogatory and insulting remarks about Islam after neighbours refused her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim.
She denied having committed blasphemy.
The case has caused tensions among Christians worldwide, and Pope Francis met Bibi’s family this year, saying he will be praying for her.
Italy said on Tuesday it would assist Bibi, who is Catholic, to flee from Pakistan.
Muahmmad Faisal, spokesman for Pakistan foreign ministry, on Thursday morning, denied media reports Bibi has left the country.
“She is in Pakistan,” Faisal told Reuters via the WhatsApp messaging service.
Insulting Islam’s Prophet Mohammad carries a heavy sentence – the death penalty – in Pakistan, which is about 95 percent Muslim. Recall that Pakistan has among other muslin countries the harshest blasphemy laws in the world.
No executions for blasphemy have been carried out in Pakistan but enraged mobs sometimes kill people accused of blasphemy.
Christians make up about 2 percent of the population.
Three security officials told Reuters early on Thursday that Bibi had been released from a prison in Multan, a city in the south of Punjab province.
She was flown to the airport near the capital, Islamabad, amidst tight security because of threats to her life, said the three officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Bibi’s lawyer, who had fled Pakistan this week, sought asylum in the Netherlands, confirmed she was no longer in prison.
“All I can tell you is that she has been released,” lawyer Saif-ul-Mulook told Reuters by phone from the Netherlands.
A spokesman for the hard-line Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) party, which took to the streets after the Supreme Court ruling, said her release is a gross violation to a deal with the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan to end the street protests.
“The TLP activists are agitated as the government has breached the agreement with our party. The rulers have showed their dishonesty,” party spokesman Ejaz Ashrafi told Reuters.
Under the deal, the government said it would block any appeal to the Supreme Court to review Bibi’s acquittal under sharia, Islamic religious law, the TLP said.
It also said the government would work to ensure Bibi could not flee the country.
If the government allows Bibi to leave, it would likely face more paralysing protests from the TLP and other Islamist parties.