The daughters of Asia Bibi, a Catholic accused of blasphemy, pose in 2010 with an image of their mother while standing outside their residence in Sheikhupura, Pakistan. The Oct. 31 acquittal of Bibi is being challenged in the country's Supreme Court, according to her husband. CNS photo/Adrees Latif, Reuters

Editorial: Canada must step up

  • November 29, 2018

Canadians generally prefer that people wait their turn, but compassion sometimes demands that we unite and jog someone to the front of the line. That time has come in the case of Asia Bibi. We should take her hand and hurry her to save haven in Canada.

The Catholic mother of five spent eight years on death row until her conviction on trumped-up of charges of blasphemy were overturned Oct. 31 by Pakistan’s Supreme Court. The judges declared her a free woman, but since being whisked from the courtroom she has cowered in protective custody, a virtual captive shut off from the world and hidden from the militants sworn to kill her.

Canada is among a handful of Western nations to offer asylum to Bibi and her family. It’s difficult to imagine anyone who better meets the international standard for refugee protection — a person who has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality or association with a particular social or political group. 

Persecution hardly begins to describe what Bibi, her husband and children have endured. She was marked for death after an incident precipitated because she was leading a faithfully Catholic life in an Islamic society. In 2009 she argued with a group of women at a well who berated the Catholic for drinking from a cup claimed by them to be for Muslims only. They accused Bibi of blaspheming the prophet Muhammad and, after Bibi denied the charge and refused to convert to Islam, she was tried and sentenced to death.

Her case brought international focus on Pakistan’s detestable blasphemy laws, which often are used like a bludgeon on innocent Christians. When a Punjab governor called for Bibi’s release in 2011, he was gunned down.  Four weeks later, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic who was then Pakistan’s minister of minorities, spoke on Parliament Hill in defence of Bibi and against his country’s blasphemy laws. He predicted his candour might lead to his death and, shortly after he returned home, he was ambushed and killed.

According to recent reports, local mullahs have organized search teams to go from street to street in search of Bibi’s hiding place. Her lawyer has already fled the country. Every day Bibi remains in Pakistan her situation becomes more perilous. It is only a matter of time before she is found or betrayed.

The Liberal government has been tight lipped about what the Prime Minister calls a “delicate domestic context” surrounding diplomatic discussions to bring Bibi to Canada. Rightfully so. Her life at this point depends on secrecy. 

Hopefully, though, there is a genuine sense of urgency behind the wall of silence. Bibi needs a champion. Canada is right to step up. It’s time to bring Asia Bibi and her family to Canada.

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