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Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2494

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Asia Bibi en route to Canada after Pakistani court rejects appeal by Islamic extremists

 

A Pakistani Catholic woman who spent 10 years on death row following a trumped-up charge of blasphemy has been freed and will be given asylum in Canada with her family.

The Lahore Supreme Court secured Asia Bibi’s release when it rejected an appeal brought by Islamic radicals to quash her earlier acquittal.

The decision means that Mrs Bibi can finally leave Pakistan and they have already accepted an offer of a new home made by Canada.

Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said: “Today is a day of rejoicing, come what may in the aftermath of this decision.

“Asia Bibi has always been innocent and it is a blight on Pakistan that it took almost 10 years to come to this decision to free her.

“Her freedom is a massive step in the advancement of equality and justice in Pakistan.

“I am sure years from now her bravery in the face of such malice and her steadfast and resolute faith in Christ despite the pressure to adopt Islam, will become a galvanising cry for change which will one-day topple the deep-set intolerance in Pakistan.

“Asia is an international figure now and can represent not only the Pak-Christian cause but the cause for all persecuted Christians and minorities.

“This woman’s sacrifice deserves a noble peace prize and I know soon many key figures across the globe will be challenging for this to happen.

“No humanitarian group can rest on their laurels our work is not complete.

“Over 40 other blasphemy victims reside in Pakistani jails of which close to 50 per cent are known to be Christian – Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws must be abrogated speedily to prevent this ever happening again.”

Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF International, a legal organisation which supports religious liberty, also welcomed the judgement of the court.

“Nobody should be persecuted because of their faith,” he said. “While the right to religious freedom is protected by the Pakistani constitution, we nonetheless see Christians face severe persecution and denial of their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and assembly. Sadly, Asia Bibi’s case is not an isolated incident but testifies to the plight that many Christians experience in Pakistan today.

“Blasphemy laws directly violate international law. All people have the right to freely choose, and live out, their faith. We, therefore, urge all governments to uphold this right by ceasing enforcement and initiating repeal of their blasphemy laws.”

Mrs Bibi was accused of blaspheming against Islam following a dispute with Muslim co-workers who objected to her drinking from a common water supply because she is a Christian. She has always denied the allegation.

Both before and after her acquittal, Islamic extremists have been vocal in demanding that she be hanged.

Extremists have also murdered two senior politicians who championed her cause. Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was assassinated in 2011 and Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic, was gunned down two months later.

The challenge to her acquittal was lodged by Tehreek-e-Lebaaik, a group linked to the Taliban.

Her husband, Ashiq Masih, and daughter Eisham Ashiq (pictured), visited the Diocese of Shrewsbury in October to ask Catholics to pray for her release.