DENVER – After spending nine years on death-row for alleged blasphemy, a Pakistani Catholic woman is requesting asylum abroad for herself and her family, and so far has received a mixed response: Italy has said it’s open, while the United Kingdom allegedly denied the request due to concerns about “unrest among certain sections of the community.”
Asia Bibi, who was in jail since June 2009 after an argument with a group of Muslim women, was secretly released from prison on Wednesday amidst riots in Pakistan’s largest cities, with extremists protesting a Supreme Court decision to acquit her of blasphemy.
According to the HuffPost, the British Pakistani Christian Association said Bibi’s appeal to Britain for asylum has been denied because the government was concerned her arrival in the country could stir civil unrest. The UK has the largest Pakistani community in the European Union, with over a million members, a majority of whom are Muslims.
In the meantime, Bibi’s daughter, Eisham, who’s 18 now but was only nine when her mother was imprisoned, released a video through the papal charity Aid to the Church in Need, that’s been at the forefront in keeping the case in the international arena.
Reports from people on the ground say the Christian community in Pakistan in general remained indoors for the first four days after the decision was announced, as a result of violent protests led by Islamic religious hardliners.
The government has reportedly agreed to a bid by a radical Islamic group in Pakistan to place her on a list of pepe ineligible to leave the country.
On Saturday, Bibi’s lawyer, Saif Mulook, fled Pakistan and is currently in the Netherlands. He left the country fearing for his life. He was filmed speaking at a church this week, where he said that he’d last met with Bibi in late October, before the decision was announced.
“I was amazed when I met her, she was in a wonderful mood, very happy, [with] no depression,” Mulook says in the video. She had allegedly shared with him a dream she’d had two days earlier, in which the doors of the prison she was being kept in opened for her to leave.
“From my dream I’m very, very certain that my will is going to be accepted and I’m going to be freed,” Bibi reportedly told her lawyer. “I have such faith in God that I have a strong feeling that nobody can hurt me.”
Mulook also says that he’s never seen “such a strong woman in my life, nor have I read about it in a book story: She’s been behind bars for 9 years, leaving behind two daughters, and she’s still so strong. I would have been broken in six months.”
Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih, has also released a video message saying he too fears for his family’s safety.
“I am requesting the Prime Minister of the UK help us and as far as possible grant us freedom,” he said. But according to the Post, the request was denied.
Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said two countries had made firm offers of asylum, but Britain was not one of them.
“I’ve been lead to believe that the UK government had concerns that her moving to the UK would cause security concerns and unrest among certain sections of the community and would also be a security threat to British embassies abroad which might be targeted by Islamist terrorists.”
On Tuesday, Italy’s Foreign Minister Matteo Salvini, widely recognized as the most powerful figure in the country’s populist government, said that he’d do “everything humanly possible” to bring Bibi to Italy and grant her asylum.
He said Italy is also working “discreetly” with other Western governments to make that possible. It’s unknown which is the other Western country that granted the family asylum.
Masih and Eisham met with Pope Francis on Feb. 24, who told them that he “thinks a lot about your mother and pray for her,” defining Bibi as a “wonderful martyr woman.”
The family had been in Rome not only to encounter the pontiff, but because Aid to the Church in Need, in an attempt to raise awareness of not only the Pakistani woman situation but that of millions of Christians persecuted daily because of their faith, turned the Coliseum red.