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Bibi: release expected, but ready to flee

20 February 2015


Expectant: Ashiq Masih, whose wife, Asia Bibi, is sentenced to death

Expectant: Ashiq Masih, whose wife, Asia Bibi, is sentenced to death

ASHIQ MASIH, the husband of Asia Bibi, the woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan, has said that he expects her to be released, but that the family will then have to flee the country.

Mr Masih is waiting for his wife's appeal to be heard in the Supreme Court of Pakistan. "We have belief in God that she will be out this time," he said last Friday.

He last saw her on 15 January and reported that she was "doing fine . . . She is in a good mental condition and very single-minded in her faith to live and die for Jesus Christ. She can pay any cost for that."

He is convinced that, if his wife is released, the family will have to flee the country: "It is not safe for her after her release to stay in Pakistan, because they will kill her. I do not have any idea where we will go."

Mrs Bibi, a 49-year-old mother of five, was accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad in 2009. She says that she was falsely accused by some Muslim women who bore her a grudge. Her death sentence, which was imposed by a regional court near Lahore in 2010, provoked an international outcry. It was upheld by the High Court of Appeal last year - a decision branded as "cruel" by the Archbishop of Canterbury (News, 24 October).

Their mother's imprisonment had had a "very bad" effect on the children, Mr Masih said. "They really miss her and want her to come back soon. It's important, because most of the family depends on the mother; so the fact that she is not here means the young girls are facing a big problem." Although the children were attending school, they had to move "every two to three months" before people recognised them.

Mr Masih believes that Pakistan's blasphemy law is being abused, and must be amended. Previous attempts by MPs to do this have been countered by assassinations. On Saturday, the guilty verdict on the assassin of the former Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer was upheld by one of Pakistan's High Courts. Mr Taseer was shot and killed by his bodyguard, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, in 2011, after trying to overturn the blasphemy laws and speaking out in defence of Mrs Bibi (News, 7 January 2011).

Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), warned that the failure of the appeal would "redouble efforts" to see Mrs Bibi's appeal fail. "If this is the case, it would take a brave Prime Minister to free Asia Bibi by presidential pardon. However, this is a duty the leader of a nation should commit himself to despite external pressures."

The BPCA is calling on the UK Government to reconsider its asylum policy to ensure that Christians in Pakistan are offered a "safe haven" here. In December, it welcomed a decision by the Dutch government to designate Pakistani Christians as a "risk group", making it easier for them to be recognised as refugees.

The BPCA plans to present a petition to the Pakistan High Commission next month: http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/justice4asia

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