According to news reports, Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi asylum, recently freed after having been on death row for 8 years for blasphemy, has been denied asylum in the UK.
Asia Bibi and her family had sought refuge in Britain after her conviction was quashed by Pakistan’s supreme court. She now remains in hiding after Imran Khan, the Pakistani Prime Minister gave into pressure from hardline Islamicist parties and individuals who are appealing the judgement.
According to Wilson Chowdhry of the British Pakistani Christian Association: “Britain was concerned about potential unrest in the country, attacks on embassies and civilians. They have not offered automatic asylum, whereas several countries have now come forward. The family will definitely not be coming to Britain.”
He added it was “an enduring shame that a country with such a lauded history of helping refugees and asylum seekers, that when the Asia Bibi case has come before them, they haven’t been as generous as they have for many victims in the past”. Italy and the Netherlands are among the other countries who have offered Bibi asylum.
Damian Green MP, the former Cabinet Office Minister along with 19 other Catholic MPs and peers, have written to the Government urging it to do the right thing. A candlelight vigil for the Mrs Bibi will be held outside Pakistan’s High Commission in London on Monday afternoon.
Mrs Bibi’s conviction caused outcry among Christians worldwide and even attracted the attention of the Pope. Her case has divided Pakistan and focused attention on the country’s draconian blasphemy laws.
Her struggles began in June 2009 in a Punjab field while she was picking berries with another farmworker. A quarrel with two Muslim women erupted after she was asked to fetch water and they said they would not drink from a vessel touched by a Christian. One of the women later alleged to a village mullah that Mrs Bibi had insulted the Prophet, but Bibi denied “blasphemy” claiming she had been falsely accused to settle a score. The toxic discourse on blasphemy has led to the murders of prominent secularists in Pakistan. More disturbingly, blasphemy is illegal and a capital offence.
A spokeswoman for the Home Office said it could not comment on individual cases, but Whitehall sources added that: “We welcome the assurances the government of Pakistan has given on keeping her and her family safe. It is important that all countries seek to uphold the rule of law and afford security and protection for the rights of all citizens irrespective or faith or belief.
Blasphemy laws in Pakistan have compromised the safety of religious minorities in Britain too.
On the 24th of March 2016 Glasgow shopkeeper Asad Shah was murdered because he was an Ahmadi Muslim – a minority sect within Islam that is not recognised as legitimate by some Muslims. Asad Shah had posted videos of himself discussing key tenets of his faith, one of which is the Ahmadi belief that the Prophet Muhammad is not the final prophet, a belief considered heretical and blasphemous by some Muslims. The shopkeeper was murdered soon after by a British Sunni Muslim, Tanveer Ahmed from Bradford who believed Shah’s video was blasphemous. From his Scottish prison cell, Ahmed has inspired a large number of supporters in Pakistan who back his violent murder of Shah.
Thousands of protestors are calling for Asia Bibi to be hung.
BMSDemocracy wholeheartedly supports the acquittal of Asia Bibi and hopes that the government of Pakistan will take this opportunity to reform its blasphemy laws which are having a negative impact internationally. We also call on the British government to accept Asia Bibi and give her the protection she will need to keep safe.
Souheil Fenghour and Rabia Mirza of the BMSDemocracy team.