News, Culture & Society

Christian mother, 53, jailed for blasphemy in Pakistan returning home

Christian mother Asia Bibi spent nine years on death row after being accused of blasphemy

A mother who faced a death sentence for blasphemy in Pakistan has finally escaped the country.

Devout Christian Asia Bibi – who was let out of prison seven months ago – was last night on her way to be reunited with her daughters in Canada.

Mrs Bibi, 53, had been languishing in custody enduring an agonising wait while her freedom was blocked by the Pakistan army. She had been in failing health and was being denied access to medical care. But last night the Daily Mail was told that she had been allowed to leave at last.

The development means she is finally safe from lynch mobs who were demanding her execution. The mother of two endured eight years on death row for allegedly insulting Islam.

She was convicted in 2010 of offending the Prophet Mohammed under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws.

Islamist protesters (pictured protesting her in November 2018) previously called for the 53-year-old to be lynched

Islamist protesters (pictured protesting her in November 2018) previously called for the 53-year-old to be lynched

Last October she was freed on appeal, sparking violent demonstrations stoked up by Taliban supporters.

She was put under armed protection from Islamist death squads as she sought asylum in a Western country.

Britain was urged to offer her sanctuary, but never did – and was accused of ‘pulling up the drawbridge’. Eventually, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau stepped in. Her daughters are already there, awaiting their mother.

Mrs Bibi’s extraction from Pakistan was repeatedly delayed, to mounting alarm among family and friends.

After she was freed on appeal, Mrs Bibi was blocked from leaving the country when Imran Khan, the prime minister and former cricketer and London playboy, promised hardliners she would stay put pending the case being reviewed.

Asia Bibi with her daughters Isham and Isha who remained at home in Canada during her incarceration

Asia Bibi with her daughters Isham and Isha who remained at home in Canada during her incarceration

A supporter of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), a hardline religious party, stands over an image of Ms Bibi as they protest her acquittal last November

A supporter of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), a hardline religious party, stands over an image of Ms Bibi as they protest her acquittal last November

Last month three judges upheld her acquittal, removing the final obstacle to her fleeing the country – a brave decision, given her case has already seen senior officials murdered for supporting her.

Last night a source said: ‘After being released from death row, she thought she was finally free. But she found she was being hunted by extremists. For the last few months she has been living in fear for her life.

‘Canada’s prime minister has been incredibly helpful. Asia’s two daughters flew out there to start new lives in safety. But Asia and her husband could not go with them.

‘The Pakistan army’s objection was that if they let her go, and she went public rubbishing Pakistan, it would be bad for all of them.’

The Mail understands Mrs Bibi and her husband Ashiq Masih were spirited out of Pakistan this week.

The daughters of Ms Bibi pose with an image of their mother while standing outside their home in Pakistan in 2010

The daughters of Ms Bibi pose with an image of their mother while standing outside their home in Pakistan in 2010

Last night a source said: ‘Asia has been waiting for many months for this moment. At last she is free. She wants nothing more than to be reunited with her daughters.

‘This has been an extremely stressful few months. After being released from death row, she thought she was finally free.

‘But the row over her release exploded and she found she was literally being hunted by extremists who wanted her dead.

‘So despite being acquitted of blasphemy, for the last few months she has been living in fear for her life.

‘Canada’s Prime Minister has been incredibly helpful. When no other country was coming to her aid, he offered her and her family refuge.

‘Asia’s two daughters flew out to Canada to start new lives there in safety.

‘But Asia and her husband could not go with them, because Pakistan’s government promised the Taliban mullahs that she would not leave the country.

‘She has been in a terrible limbo ever since, waiting for the government to sort her safe passage but not knowing whether they could achieve it.’ ‘The Pakistan army’s objection all the way through was that if they let her go, and she went public rubbishing Pakistan, it would be bad for all of them.

Ms Bibi was accused of defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammed when she rejected calls from Muslim women to convert to Islam

Ms Bibi was accused of defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammed when she rejected calls from Muslim women to convert to Islam

‘It was all because the army didn’t want her to go.’ Prime Minister Mr Khan was frequently opposed by his army, which is heavily influenced by Taliban elements.

But the Mail understands Mrs Bibi and her husband Ashiq Masih were spirited out of Pakistan this week at the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan which started this week.

Ramadan is a time for peace and reconciliation, and it may have been chosen deliberately by Mr Khan.

Mr Khan will be banking on the hope that there may be less of a backlash, during Ramadan, to a decision to allow Mrs Bibi to leave the country.

It is understood her extraction was arranged by an international team from the United States and Canada.

They had been in a race against time to flee before hardline clerics succeeded in whipping up fresh violence on the streets. The Tehreek-i-Labaik party called for mass protests after Mrs Bibi’s innocence was finally confirmed by the country’s Supreme Court earlier this year.

Why was Asia Bibi jailed for blasphemy 

In June 2009 Christian farmhand Asia Bibi allegedly insulted the name of the prophet Muhammad after having an argument with her co-workers.

She was working as farmhand to support her family.

The family were the only Christians in a tiny village in the Sheikhupura district of Punjab.

While picking berries at work, Mrs Bibi allegedly had a conflict with another member of the village and was then accused of blasphemy.

She was quickly imprisoned under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws and was tried and found guilty – the first woman this century to be found guilty of this crime.

In November 2010 a judge sentenced her to death by hanging – which caused international uproar.

Since then, she has endured eight years on death row and the last four years in solitary confinement in Sheikhupura prison.

She lived in terrible conditions and was denied access to fresh water, light, heat, a toilet, and medical care.

The only two people who tried to help Mrs Bibi through her trial, Shahbaz Bhatti, the Muslim Governor of the Punjab, and Salmaan Taseer, Pakistan’s Christian Minister of Minorities, have both been assassinated.

In October 2018 she was freed on appeal because of insufficient evidence – but since then her life and her family’s lives have been in danger.

After she was released from prison, the Muslim cleric Maulana Yousaf Qureshie announced a bounty of 500,000 Pakistani rupees to anyone who would kill her.

Her husband, a bricklayer, had three children from a previous marriage and Mrs Bibi had two of her own children with him.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk



Find local lawyers and law firms at USAttorneys.com