Asia Bibi leaves Pakistan after blasphemy acquittal

Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who served a jail term of almost nine years after being convicted for blasphemy, has left the country for Canada, her lawyer Saiful Malook said.

Bibi, a labourer from Punjab province and mother of four, was sentenced to death by a district court in Punjab in 2010 for insulting Prophet Mohammed during a quarrel with her neighbours in a farm.

Last October, the Supreme Court turned down Bibi’s conviction and authorities shifted her to Karachi where she was held in protective custody as she sought asylum in a third country.

While rights activists welcomed the suspension of her death sentence, Islamists demanded her execution.

Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) party staged street protests calling for mutiny in the military and killing of the judges who acquitted her.

The party called off the protest only after the authorities agreed to list Bibi among people banned from leaving Pakistan.

Western countries and human rights activists criticised this move.

Amnesty International’s South Asia office said Bibi’s case exposes the dangers of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws dating back to British colonial rule and the urgent need to repeal them.

The case against Bibi was registered following a quarrel between her and a group of Muslim women as they were harvesting fruit in June 2009.

The women taunted her by saying they could no longer touch water in a bucket as she had already used a cup for drinking and her faith had made the water unclean.

Prosecutors said Bibi made the offensive remarks on the Prophet when the women told her to convert to Islam.

Bibi had consistently denied making derogatory remarks against the Prophet.

Last October, the Supreme Court, while acquitting Bibi,  said authorities extracted a confession from her in front of a crowd threatening to kill her.

Christians constitute just 1.6% of Pakistan’s 208 million population and they have been vulnerable to attacks by the majority Muslim community.