by WorldTribune Staff, May 8, 2019
A Pakistani Catholic woman who was held in prison for a decade on blasphemy charges has been released by Pakistan and has flown to Canada to join her family at a secret address, Catholic News Service reported.
Asia Bibi’s release was confirmed on May 8 by Wilson Chowdhry of the British Pakistani Christian Association, who has been in almost daily contact with Ashiq Masih, Bibi’s husband.
“Asia Bibi and Ashiq have remained resolute in their faith and have prayed daily for their release, and today God has answered their prayers,” Chowdhry said in a statement to Catholic News Service. “Ashiq has always remained hopeful of an imminent release from Pakistan, and we have both been shocked at how long it has taken.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a May 8 statement that “the United States welcomes the news that Asia Bibi has safely reunited with her family. This important step follows the decision of Pakistan’s Supreme Court to acquit her of blasphemy charges in October 2018 – a decision that was subsequently upheld in January 2019. Asia Bibi is now free, and we wish her and her family all the best following their reunification. The United States uniformly opposes blasphemy laws anywhere in the world, as they jeopardize the exercise of fundamental freedoms.”
Chowdhry said Bibi was “unwell” after being held in isolation for nearly a decade.
“She must be treated with utmost care and receive appropriate medical care now she is free,” he said.
“The Pakistani government must ensure Asia and her family are compensated for the loss to their freedom and the fragile safety they have had to suffer under their auspices,” he continued. “Moreover, moves must be made to reform or abrogate the infamous blasphemy laws of Pakistan.”
Bibi, a mother of five, was sentenced to hang for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad under Section 295C of Pakistan’s Penal Code.
She was accused of blasphemy in June 2009 following a dispute with Muslim co-workers, who objected to her drinking from a common water supply because she is a Christian. Bibi has always denied the allegation.
Bibi had been held in solitary confinement since November 2010. “While she was incarcerated she saw sunlight for just two hours a month,” Catholic News Service noted.
Both before and after her acquittal, Islamic extremists have been vocal in demanding that she be hanged.
Extremists also murdered two senior politicians who championed her cause. Punjab Gov. Salmaan Taseer was assassinated in 2011 and Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic, was gunned down two months later, Catholic News Service reported.’
Bibi failed in her 2016 appeal against conviction at Pakistan’s High Court, but in October 2018, she was exonerated by the Supreme Court.
Her release was initially held up by a petition to the Supreme Court submitted by Tehreek-e-Labbaik, an extremist group linked to the Taliban.
The petition was dismissed in January, yet Bibi’s family was forced to wait three months before authorities released her.
Paul Coleman of ADF International, a faith-based legal advocacy organization that advocated at the UN said that “Sadly, Asia Bibi’s case is not an isolated incident but testifies to the plight that many Christians and other religious minorities experience in Pakistan today. While the right to religious freedom is protected by the Pakistani constitution, many face severe persecution and denial of their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and assembly.”
Coleman added, “Blasphemy laws directly violate international law. 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.”
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