A Pakistani Christian woman’s appeal to Britain for asylum has been denied because her arrival in the country may stir civil unrest, HuffPost UK has been told.
Asia Bibi, a Christian farm labourer, was released from prison in Pakistan on Wednesday after being acquitted of blasphemy. She had spent eight years on death row after an argument with a group of Muslim women in June 2009.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan overturned Bibi’s 2010 conviction for “insulting the prophet Mohammed” last week, saying the case against her was based on flimsy evidence.
But her acquittal sparked violent protests led by Islamic religious hardliners, and the government has now agreed to try to stop her leaving the country.
On Saturday her lawyer, Saif Mulook, fled Pakistan, saying he feared for his life. Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih, has also released a video message saying he too fears for his family’s safety.
“I am requesting the Prime Minister of the UK help us and as far as possible grant us freedom,” he said.
But campaigners working to secure Bibi’s move abroad said the UK government had not offered her asylum, citing security concerns.
Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said two countries had made firm offers of asylum, but Britain was not one of them.
“I’ve been lead to believe that the UK government had concerns that her moving to the UK would cause security concerns and unrest among certain sections of the community and would also be a security threat to British embassies abroad which might be targeted by Islamist terrorists.
“Asia and her family have now decided to take up one of the offers for asylum from a western country.”
The Home Office said it could not comment on individual cases.
Chowdhry, who once lived just streets away from recently released hate preacher Anjem Choudary, pointed to a number of incidents of Pakistani Christians being violently assaulted.
Tajamal Amar, 46, fled to the UK from Pakistan 10 years ago after being targeted in a drive-by shooting by Islamists who wanted to convert him. He was working as a delivery driver in Derby in October 2017 when he was attacked by “young local Muslim men”.
Amar told HuffPost UK that it was the third time in 12 months he had been targeted in the UK because of his Christian faith.
He said: “I came to the UK to get away from being attacked and so I never expected that the same would happen to me here.
“This country is still better than Pakistan where anti-minority feeling is in the mainstream.”
No-one has been arrested for the attack on Amar, which left him in a coma and with lesions to his brain, but he believes he knows his attackers.
Chowdhry did say “the majority of the British Muslim population are fine with us”, and said it was a small extremist fringe who were against Pakistani Christians.
According to Home Office statistics there were 8,336 religious hate crimes in the last two years – a 40% rise from the preceding two years.
The statistics showed that there were 264 recorded hate crimes against Christians last year, making up 5% of religious hate crimes – compared to 52% of such crimes being against Muslims.
In Europe the Dutch government has designated Pakistani Christians as a “high risk group”, opening the door for them to receive special considerations as refugees in the country.
But Khalid Mahmood, a Muslim MP from Birmingham, said relations between Pakistani Christians and Muslims in Britain are generally good.
He said: “Yes there may be a tiny minority on the extremist fringes of Islam who might resort to violence against Pakistani Christians but they will attack anyone who isn’t Muslim.
“It would be wrong to suggest that the general Muslim population in the UK is prejudiced against or hates Pakistani Christians.”
He said despite tensions, many Pakistani people living in the UK have a “shared culture.”