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Persecuted Pakistani Catholic Asia Bibi Escapes To Canada, Lawyer Says

5:48 PM 05/08/2019 | World

Jon Brown | Associate Editor

Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi has finally been confirmed to have obtained asylum in Canada, where she has joined her daughters, according to lawyer. The eight years that Bibi spent on death row for allegedly insulting Mohammed during a fight over a cup of water brought international attention to Pakistan’s repressive blasphemy law. Partially because of the Bibi case, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt commissioned a report on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s efforts to address anti-Christian persecution worldwide. The interim report determined that religious persecution is rising globally.

The Pakistani Catholic mother who spent more than eight years on death row for blaspheming Mohammed has escaped to Canada, according to her lawyer, bringing an end to her nearly decade-long persecution.

Asia Bibi, a 53-year-old mother of five, lost nearly a decade of her life awaiting execution in a prison outside Lahore, Pakistan. Her ordeal brought international attention to Pakistan’s repressive blasphemy law and roiled the country with protests and political unrest.

Bibi’s lawyer, Saiful Malook, told The Guardian that “it is a big day,” and confirmed that “Asia Bibi has left Pakistan and reached Canada. She has reunited with her family. Justice has been dispensed.”

The daughters of Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi pose with an image of their mother while standing outside their residence in Sheikhupura located in Pakistan’s Punjab Province, November 13, 2010. Standing left to right is Esha, 12, Sidra, 18 and Eshum, 10. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

According to a 2011 interview she did from her prison cell with French journalist Anne-Isabelle Tollet, Bibi claimed that her suffering began on a sweltering day in June 2009, when women from her village refused to drink after her. While they were picking berries, Bibi said, the other women told her to fetch them water from a nearby well. When she obliged, the others claimed her Christian faith had made the cup “unclean.” (EXCLUSIVE: Andrew Brunson’s American Pastor Describes Harrowing Turkish Courtroom Experience)

“I want the whole world to know that I’m going to be hanged for helping my neighbor,” Bibi recounted. “I’m guilty of having shown someone sympathy. What did I do wrong? I drank water from a well belonging to Muslim women, using ‘their’ cup, in the burning heat of the midday sun.”

Bibi’s family were the only Christians in her remote village, where she claims to have been pressed relentlessly to convert to Islam. Less than 2% of Pakistan’s population are Christian, according to the Library of Congress.

“We Christians have always stayed silent,” Bibi remembered. “We’ve been taught since we were babies never to say anything, to keep quiet because we’re a minority. But I’m stubborn too and now I want to react, I want to defend my faith. I take a deep breath and fill my lungs with courage.”

“I’m not going to convert,” Bibi told the women when they began to insult her, curse Jesus and demand her conversion. “I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind? And why should it be me that converts instead of you?”

Her incensed neighbors dragged her before the village cleric, who pronounced a death sentence on her. She was taken to a prison outside Lahore, Pakistan, near the Indian border, where she languished for over eight years. During that time, a provincial governor and cabinet minister who called for Bibi’s release were assassinated.

Pakistani Islamists hold a poster displaying the portrait of Asia Bibi, a Christian Pakistani woman accused of blasphemy, during a protest against the Supreme Court decision on Bibi's case in Lahore on February 1, 2019. (Photo by ARIF ALI/AFP/Getty Images)

Pakistani Islamists hold a poster displaying the portrait of Asia Bibi, a Christian Pakistani woman accused of blasphemy, during a protest against the Supreme Court decision on Bibi’s case in Lahore on February 1, 2019. (Photo by ARIF ALI/AFP/Getty Images)

When the Pakistani Supreme Court at last acquitted her in October 2018, protests erupted across Pakistan, shutting many parts of the country down. Some clerics used the unrest to call for the overthrow of the government, until they were arrested for sedition and terrorism. The Supreme Court of Pakistan upheld its acquittal in January, but Bibi remained unable to leave the country until recently. The exact date she left is not public.

Bibi’s lawyer thanked the activists, diplomats and others who “who stood by Bibi in hard times and worked for her freedom,” according to The Guardian.

One such figure was Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who had advocated for Bibi’s release in speeches since 2012. In a scathing November op-ed he penned for Breitbart, Paul denounced Congress’ bipartisan willingness “to continue funding countries that persecute Christians,” and called on the U.S. to cut off aid to Pakistan until Bibi was free. “Americans deserve to know their tax dollars aren’t being sent to subsidize a country’s war on Christianity,” Paul wrote.

Paul told The Daily Caller on Wednesday, “I am thrilled that Asia Bibi has finally been released from Pakistan and is now safe in Canada. For eight long years, this Christian woman was on death row on blasphemy charges. I stood for her freedom every step of the way, and today we are thankful for her liberty. Such an injustice should never happen again.” (RELATED: Father Of Christian Woman Killed In ISIS Captivity Disgusted To Find Out Pompeo Stripped Of ‘Hostage Freedom Award’)

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives with Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to speak at Lancaster House in London, Britain May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives with Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to speak at Lancaster House in London, Britain May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

During a Wednesday press conference with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that touched on religious persecution, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said, “I am thankful that today we have a glimmer of light with the news that Asia Bibi will be able to embark on a new chapter in her life. I welcome the government of Pakistan’s commitment to uphold the rule of law following the decision of its Supreme Court to confirm her acquittal.” (RELATED: French Media, Government ‘Largely Silent’ About Spike In Church Vandalism: Christian Watchdog Group Director)

In part because of Bibi, Hunt commissioned a report in December on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s efforts to address anti-Christian persecution worldwide. The interim report, released Easter, determined that “persecution on grounds of religious faith is a global phenomenon that is growing in scale and intensity.”

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