Christian Woman Leaves Pakistan For Canada After Blasphemy Acquittal

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistani officials said a Christian woman who was acquitted of blasphemy after spending eight years on death row has left for Canada to be reunited with her daughters.

Asia Bibi’s conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court last year, sparking violent protests by religious hard-liners.

Pakistani officials on May 8 said Bibi had departed for Canada but didn’t say when she left the country.

Her lawyer, Saif ul-Malook, said she had already arrived in Canada, where two of her daughters are understood to have been granted asylum.

Bibi, 48, was sentenced to death by a court in the central province of Punjab in 2010 for allegedly committing blasphemy in a dispute with Muslim women while working on a farm.

In 2014, a higher court in the provincial capital, Lahore, upheld the sentence.

Since her acquittal by the Supreme Court in October 2018, Bibi had been in protective custody while arrangements were made for her to leave the country.

Islamic extremists have threatened to kill her and also urged the overthrow of the government following Bibi's acquittal.

Bibi’s case brought international attention to Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law, which carries an automatic death penalty.

Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, was killed in 2011 for defending Bibi and criticizing the misuse of the blasphemy law.

Pakistan's minister for minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, was assassinated later that year after demanding justice for Bibi.

In a statement, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed Bibi had been reunited with her family and said Washington welcomed Pakistan's decision to free her.

"The United States uniformly opposes blasphemy laws anywhere in the world, as they jeopardize the exercise of fundamental freedoms," he said.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International said that Bibi’s case “illustrates the dangers of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and the urgent need to repeal them.”

“She should never have been imprisoned in the first place, let alone faced the death penalty. That she then had to endure the repeated threats to her life, even after being acquitted, only compounds the injustice,” the London-based human rights watchdog’s Deputy South Asia Director Omar Waraich said.

With reporting by AP, dpa, and the BBC