Christian Woman, Asia Bibi Leaves Pakistan For Canada

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Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who spent years on death row after being convicted of blasphemy, has left the country, officials have confirmed.

Her conviction was overturned last year by the Supreme Court.

She was originally convicted in 2010 after being accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad in a row with her neighbours.

Aasia Bibi was convicted of blasphemy in 2009 after a quarrel with two fellow farmworkers, who refused to drink from the same water container as a Christian. Five days later, the women said Bibi had insulted Islam, a crime punishable by death. Bibi was charged with blasphemy despite repeatedly denying the accusation. The Supreme Court overturned her conviction last year, and she had been in protective custody since then.

Pakistani officials on May 8 said Bibi had departed for Canada but didn’t say when she left the country.

Her lawyer, Saif ul-Malook, said she had already arrived in Canada, where two of her daughters are understood to have been granted asylum.

In 2014, a higher court in the provincial capital, Lahore, upheld the sentence.

Since her acquittal by the Supreme Court in October 2018, Bibi had been in protective custody while arrangements were made for her to leave the country.

Islamic extremists have rioted over the case and threatened to kill Bibi. Even as word of her departure from Pakistan became known, the hard-line Tehree-e-Labbaik Party, whose single-point agenda is defending the controversial blasphemy law, threatened protests. The same party, whose leaders including firebrand cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi are in jail, also urged the overthrow of the government following Bibi’s acquittal. Rizvi’s bail hearing is May 13.

Bibi’s case brought international attention to Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law, which carries an automatic death penalty.

Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, was killed in 2011 for defending Bibi and criticizing the misuse of the blasphemy law.

Pakistan’s minister for minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, was assassinated later that year after demanding justice for Bibi.

Bibi’s case brought international attention to Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law, which carries an automatic death penalty.

Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, was killed in 2011 for defending Bibi and criticizing the misuse of the blasphemy law.

Pakistan’s minister for minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, was assassinated later that year after demanding justice for Bibi.

In a statement, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed Bibi had been reunited with her family and said Washington welcomed Pakistan’s decision to free her.

“The United States uniformly opposes blasphemy laws anywhere in the world, as they jeopardize the exercise of fundamental freedoms,” he said.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has vowed not to be intimidated by the rioters, saying the rule of law would decide Bibi’s fate. Still, she was denied permission to leave the country for several months after her acquittal until sentiments cooled.

Bibi’s friend, who last spoke to her on Tuesday, said Bibi and her husband Ashiq Masih spent the last several weeks getting their documents in order. She received her passport last Wednesday, he said. He said she longed to see her daughters, with whom she spoke daily from her secure location, protected by Pakistani security forces.

On Wednesday, Taseer posted a video of Bibi’s daughter’s farewell message to her mother when they left Pakistan for Canada last year. Taseer said he waited until Bibi was safely out of Pakistan before posting the video.

“Their message was one of no regrets, no bitterness, just love and gratitude for all,” he said. “It takes very special people to have been through such ordeals and to come out with a heart full of love.”

A three-judge Supreme Court panel in January cleared Bibi’s final legal hurdle when they ruled there was no compelling reason to overturn the court’s earlier acquittal. The judges accused those who accused Bibi with blasphemy of committing perjury, but said they would not be tried because of the sensitivity of the case. The judges upheld the blasphemy law.

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