Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi has left the country, bound for Canada to join her daughters, sources told DW. She was sentenced to death in 2010 for blasphemy but was later acquitted by the country's Supreme Court.
Asia Bibi flew out with her husband Ashiq Masih who has fought a tough legal battle for eight long years to get relief for his wife amid growing pressure from Islamist protesters.
"Bibi has not reached Canada yet, her daughters are in Calgary city waiting for their mother to arrive. Canadian authorities will keep the family unter tight security and Bibi will not interact with media," a family member told DW.
The family told DW late on Tuesday, before the flight, that they had been asked to prepare to leave in secret.
Bibi's departure was delayed for six months after her acquittal, reportedly due to extreme pressure from the deep state not to speak out against the state when she leaves the country. Bibi was not allowed to complete paperwork to finalize her asylum in the West. Diplomatic and government sources in Islamabad confirmed the move to DW.
After the Supreme Court order to release Bibi, the 53-year-old mother of five was shifted to the southern port city of Karachi last November. There, she was put into protective custody, as she was constantly facing death threats from Islamist hardliners. Bibi's lawyer Saif ul Malook left the country in November last year, also after receiving death threats.
"We are happy that she fled the country after long delays and got justice. We were concerned about her safety but were not allowed to meet her or even speak with her over the phone to complete the paperwork," one diplomat told DW.
Protests before and after acquittal
Bibi's case attracted international attention, with many Western countries rejecting both capital punishment and the concept that blasphemy — the perceived insult of a deity or religion — is a crime. However, it also prompted major protests in Pakistan as people called for her execution.
Following the Supreme Court verdict of Bibi's acquittal, the ultra-violent Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) party took to the streets, bringing Pakistan to a standstill for three days. Eventually, TLP entered into a written pact with the government to not oppose the Supreme Court's decision to reverse the verdict against Bibi, on condition that Islamabad put her on the country's Exit Control List (ECL). The ECL is a list of people forbidden to leave Pakistan. The deal drew strong criticism from human rights activists.
But her exit from Pakistan now has been welcomed by rights groups. "It is a great relief that this shameful ordeal has finally come to an end and Asia Bibi and her family are safe. She should never have been imprisoned in the first place, let alone endure the constant threats to her life. This case horrifyingly illustrates the dangers of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and the urgent need to repeal them." Omar Waraich, Deputy South Asia Director, Amnesty International told DW.
Bibi, a poor laborer from the central Punjab and a mother of four, was sentenced to death in 2010. She was charged with blasphemy, accused of making derogatory remarks against Islam's Prophet Mohammed.
Her ordeal became emblematic for the problems faced by the country's tiny Christian minority, comprising only 2.6 percent of the population of 208 million. Pakistan's blasphemy law dates back to British colonial rule