Wednesday, 13 November, 2019

Asia Bibi's daughters find safety in Canada ahead of court blasphemy ruling

Aasia Bibi's acquittal angered right-wingers who staged nationwide protests demanding she be publicly hanged Aasia Bibi's acquittal angered right-wingers who staged nationwide protests demanding she be publicly hanged
Patty Aguilar | 29 January, 2019, 17:54

The Pakistani Supreme Court today heard a review petition against Asia Bibi's acquittal of blasphemy.

The daughters of the 51-year-old Catholic farmhand last month flew to Canada with their guardian, and diplomatic sources told "The Daily Telegraph" that the country is a leading contender to take her if freed.

Hours before the Supreme Court announced its decision, Mr Shafeeq Ameeni, acting head of the hardline Tehreek-e Labaik movement, which led the protests previous year, issued a new warning to the court not to rule in favour of the "blasphemer".

Yet October's acquittal touched off three days of widespread protest organised by the hardline anti-blapshemy Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party.

She is now free to leave the country.

In a letter written to the capital chief commissioner's office, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, the Islamabad district magistrate sought the deployment of Pakistan Rangers personnel in the city "to avoid any untoward incident" during the hearing of a "sensitive case" on January 29.

David Alton, a peer who advocates for religious freedom, said: "We can not forget that Asia Bibi's case is one of many, and that, by some estimates, more than 70 people are now on death-row for alleged blasphemy crimes".

He added: "The image of Islam we are showing to the world gives me much grief and sorrow". Canadian officials have yet to officially grant Bibi political asylum, but the country will likely accept her with open arms.

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Asia Bibi was spared the death penalty in 2018 over charges of Blasphemy.

Bibi's case goes to the core of one of Pakistan's most controversial issues - the blasphemy law, often used to settle scores or intimidate followers of minority religions, including minority Shia Muslims.

Ms Bibi's lawyer, Saiful Mulook, returned to Pakistan for Tuesday's proceedings, having previously fled to the Netherlands for security reasons.

Bibi's case attracted headlines around the world a year ago, highlighting Pakistan's strict anti-blasphemy laws which campaigners have urged the government to repeal.

"God willing, she will have the decision in her favour tomorrow". She had been accused by Muslim villagers of insulting the prophet Muhammad in a row over a cup of water.

Vigilantes reportedly went door-to-door with photographs of the farm worker in an attempt to track her down.

But most of its leaders remain in detention after a government crackdown, and few protesters could be seen at the court in Islamabad, where security appeared as normal.

Ms Bibi has always maintained her innocence in a case that sent ripples through the country. Unconfirmed Pakistani media reports said her two daughters have already gone to Canada, where they've been granted asylum. Shortly after her conviction by a trial court, prominent politicians, Punjab's governor Salman Taseer and federal minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, were gunned down for speaking out in her support.

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