Canadian Officials Working To Offer Asylum To Asia Bibi, Pakistani Christian Tried For Blasphemy

She spent years in solitary confinement.

Editor’s Note: This article initially attributed a number of statements to a representative of the British Pakistani Christian Association, Wilson Chowdhry. After publication, Chowdhry and another representative of the group alerted HuffPost to problems with those attributions. An internal review determined that HuffPost UK did not accurately report his remarks and represented paraphrases of some comments as direct quotes. HuffPost has updated the article to verify our reporting and has removed the erroneous statements. HuffPost apologises to Mr. Chowdhry and to our readers.

Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who spent eight years on death row in Pakistan for blasphemy, is expected to move to Canada after receiving offers of asylum from different countries.

Several senior officials across the Canadian government told HuffPost Canada they are actively working to secure her release but won’t confirm details due to safety concerns for Bibi and diplomats.

The news comes as Pakistan’s top court rejected a challenge to the acquittal of the mother-of-five on blasphemy charges, after she was accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court upheld its decision to overturn Asia Bibi’s conviction and death sentence, sparking fears of civil unrest which plagued her release last year.

Several countries have reportedly offered Bibi asylum, including Italy and Australia.

“The general belief among the world leaders who have registered concern is that we needed to let the judicial process run its course. That process has successfully confirmed her acquittal and now we are waiting to hear that she has landed in a new safe place,” said a statement from the British Pakistani Christian Association, a charity that has been assisting the Bibi family.

It is hoped Bibi, 54, will join two of her daughters, who were flown to Canada in December for their safety, reported The Daily Telegraph.

“I can only confirm that I believe Asia will travel to Canada to be reunited with her family,” said Wilson Chowdhry of the British Pakistani Christian Association.

Canada’s Global Affairs department said that Bibi’s case is a “priority” for the Canadian government.

“Canada is prepared to do everything we can to ensure the safety of Asia Bibi,” Global Affairs Canada spokeswoman Brittany Fletcher said on Tuesday. “We urge the Government of Pakistan to take all necessary steps to keep her safe. Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right, and must be fully respected.”

Bibi, a farm labourer, was released from prison two months ago after Pakistan’s highest court acquitted her in a landmark decision.

Last month, a delegation from the BPCA visited Canada and garnered support from MPs there, who said they would welcome Asia and her family to the country.

The Trudeau government has the support of the opposition Conservatives, who have urged him to “use every mechanism at his disposal to offer the Bibi family asylum.”

Last November, Trudeau told reporters in Paris, “There is a delicate domestic context that we respect which is why I don’t want to say any more about that, but I will remind people Canada is a welcoming country.”

Bibi spent years in solitary confinement after an argument in June 2009 with a group of Muslim women, who accused her of insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Last autumn, Pakistan’s Supreme Court overturned her conviction, saying the case against her was based on flimsy evidence.

Her acquittal sparked violent protests across the country, led by Islamic religious hardliners from the extremist group Tehreek-e-Labbaik, whose leaders were later arrested and detained on terrorism and sedition charges.

Days after her release, Bibi’s husband Ashiq Masih made an impassioned video plea to British Prime Minister Theresa May asking for asylum in the UK.

But her appeal for sanctuary was denied by the UK’s home office because of fears British embassies and diplomatic staff would be targeted by Islamic extremists.

With files from HuffPost Canada’s Samantha Beattie and Althia Raj


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