Men protest in Lahore, Pakistan, Oct. 31, after the Supreme Court acquitted Asia Bibi, a Catholic accused of blasphemy. CNS photo/Rahat Dar, EPA

Canada urged to grant asylum to Asia Bibi and her family

  • November 6, 2018

OTTAWA – Canada is being urged to give asylum to Asia Bibi and her family after Pakistan’s Supreme Court cleared her of blasphemy charges, resulting in widespread rioting by Islamic extremists.

“I want to appeal to Justin Trudeau, that he bring up our concerns with the Pakistani government,” said Peter Bhatti, brother of the assassinated Pakistani Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, who was gunned down in Islamabad in 2011 for his defence of Bibi against the unjust blasphemy laws.

“For the cause of Asia Bibi, my brother gave his life,” said Bhatti, president of International Christian Voice, a Toronto-based organization advocating for Pakistani Christians inside and outside of Pakistan. 

Bibi, a Catholic, was arrested in 2009 while working as a farmhand, accused of insulting Muhammad by drinking from a water supply used by Muslims. She was sentenced to death in 2010 under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and spent eight years in prison. Her acquittal Oct. 31 has led to massive protests and death threats. Bibi has been in protective custody and her family has appealed for help in leaving the country.

“I definitely wish the Canadian government will welcome her and her family if she is released,” said Marie-Claude Lalonde, national director of Aid to the Church in Need Canada, a charity of the Holy See.  “Canada has often stated how important human rights are and should be respected, therefore, welcoming them would be putting those words into action.”

Canada’s Conservative opposition has picked up Bibi’s cause.

“Time is of the essence,” Conservative MP Garnet Genuis said in the House of Commons on Nov. 5. “The family has specifically asked the Prime Minister of Canada to intervene. Shahbaz Bhatti and Salman Taseer were killed because of their advocacy on this case.

“Over 150 violent demonstrators have been arrested over the last few days, most of whom were specifically calling for Asia to be killed,” Genuis said.

“Mr. Speaker, with like-minded friends and allies, there are discreet and delicate discussions under way, and I will not say anything further at this time,” said MP Andrew Leslie, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.  Bibi’s family has also requested asylum in the United States and the United Kingdom.

While the Pakistani court’s decision ordering her release was greeted as “a dream come true,” the subsequent violence forced the Pakistani government to make an agreement to not let Bibi leave the country, and not to oppose a petition to review the Supreme Court’s decision.

“I am very disappointed by the attitude of the government,” said Lalonde. “At first they asked the population to respect the judgment of the Supreme Court and now they have negotiated with the Islamists that were contesting the judgment.  Justice is justice and you don’t bargain with it.”

“I want to see her outside of the country, because it is very difficult to stay in the country in this kind of situation,” said Bhatti, who is not only worried about Bibi and her family, but also the Supreme Court justices, members of the Pakistani government and the army officers who are protecting her. Bibi’s lawyer has fled the country for the Netherlands in fear of his life.

“We ask the Prime Minister of Canada that if they wish to come to Canada, to help us bring them to Canada and our community would keep them and support them as we did for Rimsha Masih,” Bhatti said.

Masih was 14 years old when she faced blasphemy charges in 2012. Jason Kenney, who was Minister of Immigration under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, arranged for her and her family to seek asylum in Canada in 2013. 

“(Masih) is having a very good life without fear,” Bhatti said.

While the Pakistani Christian community rejoiced over the court decision, they have big concerns over the safety of their members and their properties, Bhatti said. He said in the past Christian communities have seen their homes and churches “burned to ashes,” and “many people murdered because of this.”

Aid to the Church in Need’s Lalonde said they are thankful for the many Catholics who supported the agency’s work in getting the word out about Bibi and the unjust blasphemy laws that not only target minorities but also Muslims.

“We’re trying to get the word out,” Lalonde said.  “We’ve made several requests asking our donors and public in general to pray for her. The least we can do is to pray for her, the security of her family, and the judges. They were very courageous in (their decision) because they knew there was going to be violence after that.”

Bhatti also appealed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to grant asylum to about 2,500 Pakistani Christians who have fled to Thailand, Malaysia and Sri Lanka after facing accusations of blasphemy. These countries are not signatories of the UN Convention on Refugees and thus consider the Christians as illegal migrants who are put in detention centres, he said.

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