Christian leaders, politicians, and activists in the West are urging their home countries and the international community to find a way to grant asylum to Asia Bibi, a follower of Christ under threat in Pakistan after the country’s supreme court overturned a death penalty verdict over blasphemy allegations.
A deal reached by Islamabad and Islamists protesting Bibi’s acquittal may bar the Christian mother of five from leaving Pakistan.
Some news outlets claim “several countries,” including France, Spain, and Italy, have offered asylum to the Christian mother of five. However, the anti-persecution British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) reported on November 4: “The family of Asia and long-term guardian Joseph Nadeem are yet to be offered asylum in any western nation despite numerous media reports.”
That day, the Sydney Morning Herald quoted Wilson Chowdhry, the BPCA chairman who has launched a petition calling for asylum for Bibi and her family, as saying, “The fact no offer has manifested is shocking. Hundreds of thousands of people have rioted and called for her death.”
“I believe it is important for the international community, starting with Portugal, to embrace Asia Bibi and her family. After all, if she can leave Pakistan, she will have to live somewhere and Portugal could be one of those countries,” Ribeiro Castro, declared in comments to the pro-Christian group Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
Michelle Rempel, a member of parliament from the Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives party in Canada, issued a statement calling on the country’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to grant asylum to Asia Bibi:
Canada’s humanitarian immigration system should prioritize the world’s most vulnerable, like those fleeing war and persecution. Today, Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives are calling on the Trudeau government to use every mechanism at his disposal to offer the Bibi family asylum, and to encourage the Pakistani government to allow Bibi to travel freely in light of recent negotiations with the extremist TLP [Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan] party which could see authorities bar her from leaving the country.
Last Friday, the Pakistani government reached a deal with the Islamist TLP party to restrict Bibi’s travel while the court deals with petitions to review its acquittal of the Christian mother.
Protests spearheaded by TLP Islamists broke out across Pakistan soon after the nation’s supreme court acquitted Bibi last Wednesday for the 2010 death penalty verdict for alleged blasphemy.
Islamists have filed petitions challenging Bibi’s acquittal.
Citing an immediate threat to their lives, Bibi’s family has pleaded with U.S. President Donald Trump and other Western nations for asylum.
“Our family was elated by the recent decision to free my wife, but news of the government’s capitulation to the rioters who want us all dead has broken our hearts,” Ashiq Masih, Bibi’s husband, declared, according to the BPCA.
“I am requesting [U.S.] President Donald Trump to help us to leave [Pakistan], and I am requesting the prime minister of the U.K. help us and as far as possible grant us freedom,” Bibi’s husband also proclaimed in a video message, news agencies reported on November 4, noting that Masih also called on Canadian leaders for help.
Referring to the asylum request, British MP Tom Tugendhat has asked the U.K. government for an “urgent evaluation of the situation”, the Guardian reported.
“It is clear that Ms Bibi, and other religious minorities, are in grave danger and Prime Minister Imran Khan needs to decide if he believes in the rule of law or the rule of the mob,” the MP added.
Fearing for his safety, Saiful Malook, Bibi’s lawyer, left Pakistan and is seeking asylum in the Netherlands.
Islamist protestors have threatened to kill Bibi, her lawyer, and the judges who cleared her.
Eisham Masih, Bibi’s 18-year-old daughter, revealed that the Pakistani government had moved her family from house to house, hiding from Islamic extremists who want to do them harm, the Christian Post reported.
Pakistan’s Information Minister Fawad Chaudry claimed that Islamabad has “beefed up” security to protect the Christian mother, the news outlet added.
“Yes, there is a situation and we are dealing with it, but I assure you that her life is not in danger,” Chaudry insisted.
In Pakistan, blasphemy is punishable by death or life in prison depending on the offense.
Human rights groups believe the controversial blasphemy law is often used to settle personal disputes. Although Pakistan has yet to execute anyone for blasphemy, Islamists are known to take the law into their own hands.
Citing a 2018 report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported that “approximately 40 people are believed to be on death row or serving a life sentence in Pakistan for blasphemy.”