Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who spent almost a decade on death row after being falsely accused of blasphemy, has arrived in Canada to be reunited with her family.
Though Bibi was acquitted by Pakistan’s Supreme Court last October, she has been held in the port city of Karachi for the past several months as arrangements for her departure from Pakistan were made. Now, after a painstaking legal effort, this innocent mother is finally free of the country that has caused her so much pain.
In a press release, the British Pakistani Christian Association said that a British diplomat confirmed Bibi exited Pakistan at around 1 am Wednesday morning.
“Asia Bibi and Ashiq [her husband] have remained resolute in their faith and have prayed daily for their release and today God has answered their prayers,” said the head of BPCA, Wilson Chowdhry, noting that Ashiq was “shocked at how long it has taken.”
Why was the release so heavily delayed?
Authorities indicated that logistical difficulties relating to Bibi’s security situation meant that she had to be held at an undisclosed location for her own safety, as radical Islamists sought to take justice into their own hands.
However, it soon became apparent that the Pakistani government was seeking assurances from Bibi that she would not speak ill of her country in the media upon being released — it became clear that this was the true reason for the painstaking delay.
“There is a little bit of a complication. And I can’t speak on the media about [it],” Prime Minister Imran Khan told the BBC a couple of weeks back. “But I can assure you she is safe and she will be leaving in weeks.”
One of the other issues facing Asia Bibi was the reluctance of many western nations to grant her asylum. One front-runner that many anticipated would offer Bibi safe haven was the United Kingdom. However, in an extraordinary twist, it was reported that Prime Minister Theresa May had personally blocked the asylum request, fearing reprisals from the British Muslim community.
In mid-April, Canada’s Global Affairs Department told Faithwire that they were “prepared to do everything we can to ensure the safety of Asia Bibi.” The have stuck to their word.
What is the background to the blasphemy case?
Bibi was initially arrested back in 2009 after supposedly entering into an argument with a group of women about a source of drinking water. The Islamist women accused Bibi of drinking from the same tap as them, to which Bibi allegedly responded, “Jesus Christ died for my sins. What did the prophet Muhammad do for you?” a remark which they believed offended their revered religious figure.
However, in the Supreme Court’s final judgment, it declared that the two sisters who accused Bibi “had no regard for the truth,” before adding that “the said semi-literate young sisters had a reason to level allegations against the appellant which could be untrue.” The landmark judgment also noted that the prosecution’s presented evidence “was nothing short of concoction incarnate.” According to the highest court in Pakistan, the entire case against Bibi was built on lies.
“Her conviction is set aside and she is to be relieved forthwith if not required in other charges,” said Chief Justice Saqib Nisar in the astonishingly bold final ruling.
The Supreme Court held a final hearing in January, after Pakistan was sent into a frenzy by radical Islamist political groups, notably Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) who demanded that Bibi be executed. Again, the court ruled against this, setting the mother free once and for all.
What does the blasphemy law actually say?
Prior to Bibi’s acquittal, in Pakistan’s second-largest city of Lahore, hundreds of protesters gathered together and chanted “Hang infidel Asia.” Sickeningly, the hashtag #HangAsiaDefend295C was trending among the religious extremists on Twitter, with the “295C” referring to section 295-C of Pakistan’s penal code, which makes it a criminal offense to blaspheme against the Prophet Muhammad.
According to the Penal Code itself, 295-B refers to the prohibiting of “Defiling, etc., of Holy Qur’an,” and 295-C is in reference to the “use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet.” Other violations not specific to Islam contained in Pakistan’s criminal laws include “trespassing on burial places” and “disturbing religious assembly.”
Those who have chosen to support Bibi’s cause have faced grave consequences. In addition to the threat against Bibi, her family and the justices involved in her acquittal, other prominent politicians have lost their lives in the pursuit of religious freedom.
In 2011, shortly after Bibi’s conviction, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was brutally murdered for speaking out in support of the wrongly convicted Christian woman. Shot dead on the streets of Islamabad, his own bodyguard was found guilty of the heinous crime and, though sentenced to death himself, he has since become a cult hero with a large shrine in his honor erected on the outskirts of the capital city.
In light of Bibi’s final acquittal, Religious freedom charity ADF International called on the Pakistani government to immediately reform the country’s archaic blasphemy laws. “Blasphemy laws directly violate international law,” wrote ADF’s Executive Director, Paul Coleman. “All people have the right to freely choose, and live out, their faith.”
“We, therefore, urge all governments to uphold this right by ceasing enforcement and initiating repeal of their blasphemy laws.”
Do pray for Bibi, Ashiq and their children as the family starts to build a new life and a future in Canada.