Christian woman Asia Bibi leaves Pakistan after being acquitted of blasphemy

Christian woman Asia Bibi leaves Pakistan after being acquitted of blasphemy

Pakistani Christian woman Asiya Bibi, who spent eight years on death row in a blasphemy case before she was acquitted by the top court last year, has left the country, an official source said.

Pakistan's Supreme Court in January upheld its earlier verdict to free Bibi, but Pakistani officials have anxious that her sudden departure could trigger further riots.

Asia Bibi's lawyer, Saif-ul Malook, told NPR the practicing Catholic and her husband arrived in Canada on Tuesday, where they have reunited with their children. "She will be more secure in Canada", he added.

Paying tribute to Aid to the Church in Need and all those who have appealed for justice for Asia Bibi, Father Yousaf said: "There are so many who deserve our congratulations for all that they have done for Asia in her struggle to regain her freedom".

Her case swiftly became infamous, drawing worldwide attention to religious extremism in deeply conservative Pakistan where blasphemy carries a maximum penalty of death. That challenge was rejected by the court on January 29, effectively allowing Bibi to leave the country. She denied the accusations. She was later beaten up at her home during which her accusers, alongside the complainant, Qari Salaam (who taught Asma and Mafia the Quran), claimed that she had confessed to blasphemy. Rights groups say the blasphemy law is exploited by hardliners as well as ordinary Pakistanis to settle personal scores.

Bibi's case gained prominence when the former governor of Pakistan's Punjab province Salman Taseer was killed in 2011 for supporting her and criticising the blasphemy laws.

The Supreme Court ruled October 31 that the basis of the blasphemy charge was a "concocted" story and overturned the guilty verdict. The judges upheld the blasphemy law. She was released from Multan Jail on November 7 and was moved to an unknown location for the security concerns.

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She has been separated from her family and living in safe houses since the 2018 overturning of the sentence.

Dorjee said the targeting of Sufi Muslims and others by non-state actors and extremist groups perpetuates a deadly cycle of sectarian violence that impedes freedom of religion or belief in Pakistan.

At the time, the leader of Pakistan's Islamist Tehreek-e-Labbaik movement and dozens of his supporters were placed into "protective custody", with a government spokesman saying the arrests were aimed at preventing protests from going ahead out of fear for public safety.

Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association Wilson Chowdhry, who worked as a liaison between diplomats and Bibi's husband, also rejoiced over Bibi's release.

It was not clear when Bibi may have left or where she may have gone.

"The United States welcomes the news that Asia Bibi has safely reunited with her family", US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

Less than 2% of Pakistan's population are Christian, according to the Library of Congress. The mere suspicion of blasphemy against Islam is enough to ignite mob lynchings in the country.