Tuesday 21 May 2019

British mother who spent eight years on death row in Pakistan freed after being acquitted of blasphemy

Aasia Bibi (AP Photo, File)
Aasia Bibi (AP Photo, File)
Aasia Bibi and her boyfriend, Shahid Lashari, are presented to journalists, at police station in Muzaffargarh in Pakistan (AP Photo/Iram Asim)

Kathy Gannon

Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy after spending eight years on death row in Pakistan, has left the country for Canada to be reunited with her daughters, Pakistan's media said.

Wilson Chawdhry of the British Pakistani Christian Association told the Associated Press on Wednesday that he had received a text message from a British diplomat stating simply: "Aasia is out."

A close friend of Ms Bibi confirmed that she had left the country, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Bibi was convicted of blasphemy in 2009 after a dispute with a fellow farm worker.

Aasia Bibi and her boyfriend, Shahid Lashari, are presented to journalists, at police station in Muzaffargarh in Pakistan (AP Photo/Iram Asim)
Aasia Bibi and her boyfriend, Shahid Lashari, are presented to journalists, at police station in Muzaffargarh in Pakistan (AP Photo/Iram Asim)

She spent eight years on death row until the Supreme Court last year overturned her conviction. She has since been in protective custody.

Islamic extremists have rioted over the case and threatened to kill her, and also urged the overthrow of the government after Ms Bibi's acquittal.

The case has brought international attention to Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law, which carries an automatic death penalty.

The mere suspicion of blasphemy against Islam can be enough to ignite mob lynchings in the country.

The friend, who last spoke to her on Tuesday, said Ms Bibi and her husband Ashiq Masih had spent the last few weeks getting their documents in order.

He said she was longing to see her daughters, with whom she talked almost daily from her secure location, protected by Pakistani security forces.

Mr Chawdhry said he had been in regular contact with Ms Masih husband throughout the ordeal as well as with several diplomats as part of an international effort to have her freed.

Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province, was shot and killed by one of his guards in 2011 for defending Ms Bibi and criticising the misuse of the blasphemy law.

The assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, has been celebrated as a martyr by hardliners since he was hanged for the killing, with millions visiting a shrine set up for him near Islamabad.

Pakistan's minister for minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, was assassinated later the same year after demanding justice for Ms Bibi.

Prime minister Imran Khan has vowed not to be intimidated by the rioters, saying the rule of law would decide Ms Bibi's fate, but she was denied permission to leave the country for several months until sentiments cooled.

A three-judge Supreme Court panel in January cleared Ms 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 charged Ms 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.

Press Association

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