Pakistani authorities finally allowed Christian mother Asia Bibi, exonerated in October 2018 after serving eight years on death row for alleged blasphemy, to be reunited with her family this week in Canada after spending months in Islamabad-imposed hiding.
Bibi’s husband Ashiq Masih reportedly remained by his wife’s side while she was holed up for months by Islamabad after her acquittal.
“Asia Bibi and Ashiq have remained resolute in their faith and have prayed daily for their release, and today God has answered their prayers,” Wilson Chowdhry, the chairman of the British Pakistani Christians Association (BPCA), declared on Wednesday.
Chowdhry reportedly remained in touch with her husband throughout his and Bibi’s ordeal at an undisclosed government location.
Echoing the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), the BPCA argued that Pakistani authorities prevented her departure over concerns that she would deprecate Islamabad in the media after she reaches Canada.
Having spoken to various diplomats and government officials, I have been astounded by reports that the delay was caused by the myopic approach by leaders of Pakistan’s military who have prevented the exit of Asia Bibi through fear of the bad press the nation of Pakistan would receive.
Their pernicious delays have only served to fuel more international shame on a country which has already hit rock-bottom with their poor human rights record.
Citing Bibi’s case and other infractions, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) in January placed Pakistan on its Special Watch List for severe religious freedom violators.
The BPCA chairman urged the Pakistani government to compensate Bibi and her family “for the loss to their freedom and the fragile safety they have had to suffer under their auspices.”
He reiterated his call for Islamabad to “reform or abrogate” its infamous blasphemy laws.
The Pakistani Supreme Court’s October 2018 decision to clear Bibi of any wrongdoing triggered nationwide riots demanding the deaths of Bibi, her family, as well as the judges, and lawyers involved in her exoneration.
Bibi’s case also fueled friction between the Muslim majority and Christian minority in Pakistan.
Despite being acquitted at the end of October of last year, Pakistani authorities held Bibi in an undisclosed location allegedly for her safety, noting that Islamists sought to take justice into their own hands and carry out the execution that Pakistan’s top court opposed.
Last month, however, CBN suggested her release stems from Islamabad finally convincing her not to disparage Pakistan in the media after she reunites with her family in Canada.
On Wednesday, BPCA acknowledged:
In the early hours of the morning today (1am) BPCA received confirmation from a British diplomat that Asia Bibi had safely exited Pakistan. Asia Bibi bravely held on to her faith through the most brutal of incarcerations that involved her having access to sunlight for two hours per month. Now she finally travels to Canada to be reunited with her children.
Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law, primarily used to target Christians and other religious minorities, makes insulting Islam a crime punishable by life imprisonment or death depending on the perceived severity of the offense.
Although Pakistan has yet to carry out a blasphemy-related execution, Islamists are known to take their version of justice into their own hands, sometimes to fatal ends.
Initially, Islamabad prohibited Bibi from leaving Pakistan as part of a deal between pro-blasphemy law group Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and Prime Minister Imran Khan’s administration.
The deal forced the Christian mother of five to remain in the Muslim majority country while the Supreme Court dealt with a TLP petition to review its acquittal of Bibi.
PM Khan capitulated to the demands of the extremists after they organized riots across the country that brought the country to a standstill.
On 29th January, three months after her acquittal by the Supreme Court, the court finally quashed the petition by Tehreek-E-Labbaik in essence finally declaring Asia Bibi free and freeing her from her original charges completely.
In an interview with BBC published on April 10, Khan alleged, “There is a little bit of a complication. And I can’t speak on the media about [it]. But I can assure you she is safe and she will be leaving in weeks.”
On April 16, CBN pointed out:
Reports indicate that Bibi was initially held at an undisclosed location for her own safety, as radical Islamists sought to take justice into their own hands and hand down the execution that Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled against.
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.Now, having likely secured these assurances, Bibi will be allowed to reunite with her family in Canada.
BPCA reminded Christians across the world that at least 14 of their fellow Christ followers remain imprisoned in Pakistan for alleged blasphemy.
In its latest report annual report on global human rights, the State Department acknowledged that Pakistani authorities continue to abuse prisoners accused of blasphemy, frequently subjecting them to “poor prison conditions.”
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) “reported that many individuals accused of blasphemy remained in solitary confinement for extended periods, sometimes for more than a year,” it added.
“The government asserted this treatment was for the individual’s safety, given the likelihood that prisoners accused of blasphemy would face threats from the general prison population,” it continued.