Though several weeks have passed since Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi was released from prison after having her blasphemy conviction overturned, her ordeal is far from over.
With radical Islamists calling for the death of Bibi as well as the three Supreme Court judges who acquitted her, the mother of five from Punjab province is hoping to flee Pakistan.
So far, however, that appears to be a pipe dream.
To date, the 54-year-old has not been allowed to leave her country, and several European nations appear reluctant to offer her sanctuary.
Aware that her life is in peril every moment she remains in Pakistan, more than 230 parliamentarians from various countries from Europe to Latin America have signed an open letter to Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, calling for Bibi and her family to be granted asylum.
“We urge in the strongest possible terms the government of Pakistan to guarantee safe passage for Asia, her family, and any of those under threat due to their part in the decision to acquit her, to any country that accepts them,” they wrote.
The parliamentary leaders went on to stress the importance of “the rule of law and the fundamental human rights to freedom of religion and expression.”
In a Nov. 13 opinion piece, The Guardian’s Samira Shackle used stronger language against the prime minister, accusing him of trying to walk the line between defending the verdict and seeking to appease Islamic extremists.
Shackle noted that initially, Khan supported the Pakistan Supreme Court’s ruling, calling the radical Islamic demonstrators “enemies of the state.”
“Yet in the days that followed, as protests closed off major motorways and caused businesses and schools to shutter, Khan and his inner circle appeared to vacillate,” she wrote. “Reports emerged that in negotiations with the TLP, the anti-blasphemy group orchestrating the protests, Khan agreed to allow a court to review the acquittal, and to work to prevent Bibi from leaving the country.”
“This was a betrayal of immense proportions, since it is clear that her life cannot be protected while she remains in Pakistan,” Shackle charged.
Meanwhile, Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF International, had some harsh words of his own for the European nations dragging their feet on the matter of granting Bibi asylum.
“After all that Asia Bibi has endured, we are alarmed to learn that European governments seem reluctant to grant asylum at this critical hour,” he said of Bibi, who spent a total of eight years on death row, falsely accused of insulting Islam’s founder, Muhammad.
“Bibi’s life is clearly in extreme danger and no one could be more deserving of refuge,” he added.
Coleman expressed his gratitude to the parliamentarians for their willingness to stand in solidarity with Bibi.
“We urge the government of Pakistan to secure Bibi’s and her family’s safe exit from the country,” he said.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws were first implemented by former President Zia ul-Haq in the early 1980s. Since 1990, more than 60 people have been murdered on false charges of blasphemy in Pakistan.