May 27, 2019
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Pakistani woman acquitted of blasphemy arrives in Canada

Islamabad, May 8 (efe-epa).- A Pakistani Christian woman, who was on a death row for blasphemy before she was acquitted in 2018 after years in jail, has left Pakistan and arrived in Canada to reunite with her family, her lawyer and government sources said on Wednesday.

Asia Bibi, a mother of five, left for Canada on Tuesday and has landed there after leaving Pakistan where she faced death threats from Islamist groups despite being exonerated by the Supreme Court.

“Asia Bibi reached Canada last night. She left Pakistan with her husband yesterday after the government permitted her to leave. Although it took long, finally she is safe, Alhamdulillah (Thank god),” lawyer Saif ul Malook told EFE.

A top diplomatic source at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Bibi had left of her own will with full support and security from the Pakistani government.

“There was a certain procedure which led to the delay for her to leave the country,” the source told EFE, adding “all the arrangements were (made) by the government” for her safe exit from the country.

“She is a free citizen and she could move wherever she wanted to,” said the source, requesting not to be named.

One of Bibi’s close aides told EFE by phone that Bibi and her family members have been offered asylum in Canada.

“The government says that they had to manage some internal issues with the religious parties and with other bodies so it took that long for her to leave the country,” the aide said.

The woman was accused of insulting Prophet Muhammad in 2009 and a court sentenced her to death in 2010 under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws, sparking widespread outrage from national and international human rights groups.

Bibi was released from prison after eight years on death row in November last year after she was acquitted by the Supreme Court of blasphemy charges on Oct. 31.

After years in jail, the Supreme Court finally found no evidence against her and ordered her release.

Her acquittal triggered widespread protests by hardliners in the country where blasphemy is a sensitive issue with 97 percent of Pakistan's 180 million inhabitants being Muslims.

The government allowed the protesters to file a review in the top court, which stopped Bibi from leaving the country until the verdict was announced.

The Supreme Court on Jan. 29 rejected the appeal against the acquittal, removing the last obstacle to her freedom and possible exit from the country.

International and local rights groups have been demanding reforms of the controversial blasphemy laws, which were introduced by the military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s.

It is widely believed that such laws are often misused to settle disputes and for personal vendettas.

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