Boris Johnson last night demanded a Pakistani Christian mother freed from death row be given refuge in Britain.
In an extraordinary intervention, the former foreign secretary said Asia Bibi, 53, was at serious risk if she stayed in her home country.
She was cleared last month after eight years in jail on blasphemy charges but now faces being lynched by extremists. Mr Johnson said ‘brave’ Mrs Bibi had suffered appalling treatment because of her faith.
Boris Johnson said Asia Bibi, 53, was at serious risk if she stayed in her home country
He has told Sajid Javid that the danger of retaliatory attacks against British interests should not stop her being granted asylum.
In a letter to the Home Secretary, he said: ‘I am well aware, as a former foreign secretary, of the constant threat to our overseas missions but we cannot allow the threat of violence to deter us from doing the right thing.
‘I do not think it is a dignified position for the UK, given our historic links with Pakistan and the extent of our influence there, to look to others to do what we are allegedly nervous to do ourselves.’ In the letter, seen by the Mail and also sent to Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Mr Johnson said Mrs Bibi had an overwhelming claim for compassion from the British Government.
Asia was cleared last month after eight years in jail on blasphemy charges
While at the Foreign Office he was heavily criticised for his handling of the case of British mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was jailed in Iran on spying charges.
He was accused of risking an additional five years being added to her sentence when he told MPs that she had been in Iran to train journalists.
Mr Johnson had to apologise, retracting ‘any suggestion she was there in a professional capacity’.
His intervention on behalf of Mrs Bibi comes only 24 hours after he urged Cabinet ministers to mutiny against the Prime Minister over her proposed Brexit deal.
Mr Javid, the son of Pakistani immigrants, is one of Mr Johnson’s main rivals for the Tory crown if Mrs May steps down. Some will see Mr Johnson’s move as an attempt to claim the credit if Britain does offer Mrs Bibi a safe haven.
Government sources say Mr Javid is keen to help but the decision is being held up by Foreign Office red tape. Some diplomats have urged caution as a result of fears that such an initiative could lead to attacks on UK Government offices in Pakistan.
Allies of Mr Johnson insist his intervention is not a criticism of Mr Javid or Mr Hunt. One said: ‘He was touched by her case and he thinks that now there is an opportunity for the UK to do the right thing. We can act and he thinks we should.’
Mrs Bibi, a Roman Catholic from Punjab province, was jailed in 2010 after she was accused of defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammed.
The mother of five was harvesting fruit with a group of Muslim women when a row broke out over a bucket of water. The women said that because she had used a cup they could no longer touch it, because her faith had made it unclean.
Prosecutors alleged that in the ensuing row the women said Mrs Bibi should convert to Islam.
It was claimed she made offensive comments about the Prophet in response.
At her home she was given a beating, during which her accusers say she confessed to blasphemy. Police arrested her and she was sentenced to death.
Mrs Bibi’s conviction was quashed last month following eight years in solitary confinement.
The supreme court said the case was based on flimsy evidence and her confession was delivered in front of a crowd ‘threatening to kill her’.
She has always denied the allegations.
The acquittal prompted days of demonstrations by thousands of hardline Islamists who had campaigned for her to be hanged. Mrs Bibi is in hiding after Imran Khan’s government agreed to allow a petition against the court’s decision, as part of a deal to halt the protests.
Officials agreed to stop her leaving Pakistan and her husband has appealed to Canada, the UK and the US to consider granting asylum.
Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, confirmed his government was in talks with Pakistan. He said: ‘There is a delicate domestic context that we respect which is why I don’t want to say any more about that, but I will remind people Canada is a welcoming country.’
Bibi, a mother of five, was reported in 2009 by women who alleged that she had insulted Islam during a discussion near a well in the province of Punjab and was sentenced to death in 2010 for blasphemy
The Bishop of Coventry, the Right Reverend Dr Christopher Cocksworth, said Mrs Bibi must be offered protection.
The Church of England’s spokesman for international affairs in the House of Lords said: ‘In common with Christians around the world, the Church of England has been deeply distressed by the case of Asia Bibi. We call on the government of Pakistan to ensure that the decision of the nation’s supreme court is upheld. It is important she is offered every protection as she and her family seek to rebuild their lives.’
He said he had written to Foreign Office minister Lord Ahmad ‘supporting the calls for Mrs Bibi and her family to be offered asylum in the UK’.
He said he urged the Government to clarify its position on the matter.
On Sunday a UK campaign group in touch with the family said the British Government was concerned about attacks in the UK.
Wilson Chowdhry of the British Pakistani Christian Association said: ‘They have not offered automatic asylum, whereas several countries have now come forward. They won’t be coming to Britain.’
Home Office sources have dismissed claims that Mrs Bibi had not been offered asylum owing to security fears.
Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF International, a global human rights organisation, said: ‘We are alarmed to learn that European governments, including the United Kingdom, seem reluctant to grant asylum at this critical hour.
‘Bibi’s life is clearly in extreme danger and no one could be more deserving of refuge.’
Nineteen Catholic MPs and peers have written to Mr Hunt urging him to allow her to come here.=