NEWS
30/01/2019 10:34 AM IST | Updated 01/02/2019 9:58 PM IST

Asia Bibi, Pakistani Christian Tried For Blasphemy, Headed To Canada: Family Friend

She spent years in solitary confinement.

Editor’s Note: This article initially attributed a number of statements to a representative of the British Pakistani Christian Association, Wilson Chowdhry. After publication, Chowdhry and another representative of the group alerted HuffPost to problems with those attributions. An internal review determined that HuffPost UK did not accurately report his remarks and represented paraphrases of some comments as direct quotes. HuffPost has updated the article to verify our reporting and has removed the erroneous statements. HuffPost apologises to Mr. Chowdhry and to our readers.

Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who spent eight years on death row in Pakistan for blasphemy, is expected to soon arrive in  Canada after accepting an offer of asylum, says a source close to her family.

The news comes as Pakistan’s top court today rejected a challenge to the acquittal of the mother-of-five on blasphemy charges, after she was accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

The Supreme Court upheld its decision to overturn Asia Bibi’s conviction and death sentence sparking fears of civil unrest which plagued her release last year.

Wilson Chowdhry of the British Pakistani Association told HuffPost UK: “I can confirm that Asia Bibi will be flown out to Canada very, very soon and be joined in Canada by the rest of her family in due time.”

He said Canadian diplomats are making the necessary arrangements and that Bibi “is looking forward to her new life in a new country.”

It is hoped Bibi will join two of her daughters, who have already been secretly transported to Canada, Chowdhry said.

Canada’s Global Affairs department would not confirm Chowdhry’s update, but said that Bibi’s case is a “priority” for the Canadian government.  

“Canada is prepared to do everything we can to ensure the safety of Asia Bibi,” Global Affairs Canada spokeswoman Brittany Fletcher said on Tuesday. “We urge the Government of Pakistan to take all necessary steps to keep her safe. Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right, and must be fully respected.”

Speaking on background, officials told HuffPost Canada they are actively working to secure her release but won’t confirm details due to safety concerns for Bibi and diplomats.

Chowdhry, a close friend of the Bibi family who travelled the world trying to secure her asylum, said Bibi was moving to a secret and “relatively remote” part of Canada.

“Security concerns are still paramount. Even in Canada, Asia’s life is in potential danger.”

Bibi, a farm labourer, was released from prison two months ago after Pakistan’s highest court acquitted her in a landmark decision.

Last month, a delegation from the British Pakistani Christian Association visited Canada and garnered support from MPs there, who said they would welcome Asia and her family to the country.

The Trudeau government has the support of the opposition Conservatives, who have urged him to “use every mechanism at his disposal to offer the Bibi family asylum.”

Last November, Trudeau told reporters, while in Paris: “There is a delicate domestic context that we respect which is why I don’t want to say any more about that, but I will remind people Canada is a welcoming country.”

Bibi spent years in solitary confinement after an argument with a group of Muslim women in June 2009, who accused her of insulting the Prophet Muhammad. But last fall, Pakistan’s Supreme Court overturned her conviction, saying the case against her was based on flimsy evidence.

Her acquittal sparked violent protests across the country, led by Islamic religious hardliners from the extremist group Tehreek-e-Labbaik, whose leaders were later arrested and detained on terrorism and sedition charges.

Days after her release, Bibi’s husband Ashiq Masih made an impassioned video plea to British Prime Minister Theresa May asking for asylum in the UK.

But her appeal for sanctuary was denied by the UK’s home office because of fears British embassies and diplomatic staff would be targeted by Islamic extremists.

Several countries have reportedly offered Bibi asylum, including: France, Spain, Holland, Germany, Italy and Australia.

Chowdhry told HuffPost that  Bibi and her family spent Christmas together in a “safe and secret location” with a core of “international diplomats” guarding her.

With reporting from HuffPost Canada’s Samantha Beattie and Althia Raj.