Netherlands recalls staff after threats at embassy in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - The Netherlands recalled staff from its embassy in Pakistan following threats after providing shelter to the lawyer of a Christian woman in a blasphemy case, the Dutch foreign minister said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO - Saiful Mulook, lawyer of Christian woman Asia Bibi, addresses a news conference at the International Press Centre in The Hague, the Netherlands November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Eva Plevier

Hard-line Islamists in Pakistan have blocked streets and called for the killing of judges after the Supreme Court on Oct. 31 overturned the conviction of Asia Bibi, a mother of five, who had been on death row for eight years.

“Unfortunately threats have been made against the Netherlands, Dutch diplomats,” Foreign Minister Stef Blok told national NPO radio. “I discussed the issue with my Pakistani colleague.”

The embassy briefly closed earlier on Monday and “a large number of staff” returned to the Netherlands, Blok said.

Bibi’s lawyer, Saiful Mulook, fled to the Netherlands soon after the verdict, citing death threats. The Dutch government said on Thursday that it had offered him temporary shelter.

On Friday the Dutch government said its embassy in Pakistan, which is in a tightly guarded diplomatic enclave, had temporarily halted issuing visas “due to circumstances beyond our control”.

Pakistani media reported that the embassy had been forced to close because of threats. But the Dutch Foreign Ministry said reports of the embassy’s closure were mistaken.

No one answered the telephone at the Dutch embassy after office hours on Monday.

Bibi, 53, was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 over allegations she made derogatory remarks about Islam, which is punishable by death in Pakistan. She always denied having committed blasphemy.

The militant Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) party, which has made blasphemy a rallying cry, took to the streets after the Supreme Court ruling and blocked main cities and highways for three days.

The protests ended after the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan struck a deal with the TLP that the state would not block a petition to review Bibi’s acquittal in light of sharia Islamic religious law and ensure she wouldn’t leave country until that was decided.

Pakistani government officials have said Bibi is in a secure location while the court considers her case.

Additional reporting by Anthony Deutsch in AmsterdamReporting by Asif ShahzadEditing by Robert Birsel and David Stamp, William Maclean