Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi, who spent eight years in prison facing death row on trumped-up blasphemy charges, has finally reunited with her family in Canada, her lawyer confirmed on Wednesday. Pakistani Muslims clamoring for her death have required her family to live in secrecy and Bibi will live under a false identity for protection.
“It is a big day,” Saiful Malook, Bibi’s lawyer, told The Guardian. “Asia Bibi has left Pakistan and reached Canada. She has reunited with her family. Justice has been dispensed.”
According to the British Pakistani Christians Association (BPCA), Bibi worked as a berry-picker. She was harassed for drinking from the same well as Muslims. While she was being beaten, she said, “My Christ died for me, what did Muhammed do for you?” The workers attacked her and returned with a mob to Lynch her in June 2009.
Local Christians called the police to put Bibi in safe custody, but an imam formally accused her of blasphemy, falsely stating that he had witnessed the blasphemy. After years in prison, Bibi failed her High Court appeal in November 2016, but on October 31, 2018, the Supreme Court exonerated her of all charges. Yet she had to remain in the country while the Supreme Court considered a petition filed by the Islamist group Tehreek-e-Lebaik (TLP).
Muslim mobs have demanded Asia Bibi be hanged for her alleged blasphemy, regardless of the exoneration. By the afternoon after the exoneration, Islamists wielding clubs had blocked highways and pelted police with stones in many cities, including the capital city of Islamabad and Karachi.
Pakistan has harsh blasphemy laws with extreme penalties. BPCA listed 15 people currently in prison for blasphemy. Two of them, Shugafta and Shafqat, were accused of sending a blasphemous message and have been in prison since July 2013. Nabeel Masih is in prison for “posting a derogatory image on social media.” Human Faisal is in prison for burning “shreds of the Quran in a pile of Garbage.” Yaqoob Bashir is serving time for burning a booklet containing Quranic verses.
The Canadian government declined to comment on the circumstances under which Bibi’s family would be living in the country, but BPCA Chairman Wilson Chowdhry told The Guardian that the family was living under assumed identities with security that would be beefed up with Asia Bibi’s arrival.
“I think when time moves on and tensions ease they would be living as normal people without security,” Chowdhry added. “For sure they would live with some new identities there. They would not use [the] same identities which they have had back in Pakistan.”
Asia Bibi has finally escaped from Pakistan, but she will never be safe so long as Pakistani Muslims demand her head. Worse, many Christians face imprisonment and worse under similarly trumped-up charges of violating the tyrannical blasphemy laws.
Islam is a diverse religion, but many Islamists outside of Pakistan want to impose similar kinds of blasphemy laws, inspired by strict interpretations of Sharia (Islamic law). Americans must oppose this kind of tyranny and those who support it.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.