Asia Bibi, the Catholic woman acquitted of blasphemy after spending eight years on death row in Pakistan, has left the country after months of delays.
Bibi’s lawyer, Saif ul Malook, told the BBC Bibi has arrived in Canada to join two of her daughters who have been granted asylum there.
Bibi has been held in protective custody since she was released from prison last October after Pakistan’s supreme court acquitted her of blasphemy. Protests from Islamist groups including Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP), a movement dedicated to upholding Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws, forced an appeal but the court upheld the acquittal.
Canada offered Bibi asylum, but her friend Aman Ullah, who was forced to flee the country on 15 February, told the Associated Press that Bibi and her husband were locked in a single room in a house where the door opens only “at food times”.
Foreign diplomats said the delay was due to Pakistan’s military putting pressure on Bibi not to criticise Pakistan or its authorities on leaving the country.
Lawyer Malook said Bibi’s release and arrival in Canada was the result of hard work by activists, foreign diplomats and others “who stood by Bibi in hard times and worked for her freedom”.
Neville Kyrke-Smith, National Director of Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need (UK) said:
“Thank you to so many people who have prayed and campaigned for Asia Bibi’s release. Today is a day of rejoicing. At Aid to the Church in Need we were privileged to welcome some of Asia Bibi’s family to the UK last year; we are sure that the presentations they made gave added impetus to finding a solution for Asia who had suffered unjust imprisonment for nearly 10 years.
“However, today is also a day tinged with great sadness – as we remember those others who are still incarcerated or unjustly accused under the Blasphemy Laws today, as well as those who sacrificed so much for Asia Bibi – particularly the politicians Salman Taseer and Shabazz Bhatti who gave up their lives in the pursuit of freedom for Asia. Our prayers and our work will continue in commitment to help all those who are unjustly accused by radical fundamentalists and who cannot practice their Christian faith freely.”