ASIA BIBI, the Pakistani Christian woman imprisoned on death row after she was accused of blasphemy, has left Pakistan and arrived in Canada, four months after her acquittal was upheld by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Mrs Bibi was acquitted last November, more than eight years after she was sentenced to death for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad during an argument with her neighbours at a well (News, 19 November 2010). The original sentence was overturned by a three-judge panel, sparking protests in Pakistan by Islamic extremists (News, 31 October 2018).
The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, who has defended the country’s blasphemy laws, agreed to allow a petition against the decision. This was dismissed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Asif Saeed Khosa, in January.
But Mrs Bibi, who is Roman Catholic and has five children, was reportedly kept at a secret location while arrangements were made for her to leave the country and seek asylum. Some reports suggested that she had been prevented from leaving.
Her lawyer, Saif ul Malook, told the BBC and The Guardian on Wednesday that she had arrived in Canada, where two of her daughters are understood to have been granted asylum. “It’s a big day. Asia Bibi has left Pakistan and reached Canada. She has reunited with her family.”
Her release was advocated by the United Nations and international agencies. Release International called on the more than 200 others accused of blasphemy in Pakistan to be freed. Its chief executive, Paul Robinson, said: “We are overjoyed that Asia is finally free. But why has it taken so long for this innocent woman to be allowed to leave?
“The government of Pakistan must act now to safeguard its Christian minority against mob reprisals by stepping up security against any suggestion of rioting and violence. And it must urgently review the case against every other prisoner who has been accused and jailed for blasphemy.”
The executive director of ADF International, Paul Coleman, agreed: “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. . .
“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.”
Reuters journalists released. Two Reuters journalists who were jailed in Myanmar for their reporting the Rohingya crisis have been freed, after more than 500 days in a prison outside of Yangon.
The journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, had been convicted under the Official Secrets Act and sentenced to seven years in jail last September, raising questions about press freedom and democracy in the country.
They were released alongside thousands of other prisoners as part of mass amnesties that take place around new year in Myanmar, on Tuesday. Both have families and young children.
Speaking after his release, Mr Lone vowed to continue his reporting. A spokesman for Reuters said: “We are enormously pleased Myanmar has released our courageous reporters.”