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Politics Canada looking to offer asylum to Pakistani Christian woman accused of blasphemy

Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman, listens to officials at a prison in Sheikhupura near Lahore, Pakistan, Nov. 20, 2010.

The Associated Press

The Canadian government is willing to offer asylum to Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who spent eight years on death row on charges of blasphemy, federal officials said.

Ms. Bibi’s daughters are already in Canada, and federal officials are operating quietly in Pakistan, striving to protect Ms. Bibi as well as Canadian personnel on the ground in the country. Canada recently made international headlines for offering asylum to Rahaf Mohammed, the 18-year-old who fled an abusive family in Saudi Arabia.

“The case of Asia Bibi is a priority for our government, and we are focused on ensuring the safety of her and her family. We are working with like-minded friends and allies on this issue. Canada is prepared to do everything we can to ensure the safety of Asia Bibi,” said Brittany Fletcher, a spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs.

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“We urge the Government of Pakistan to take all necessary steps to keep her safe. Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right, and must be fully respected,” Ms. Fletcher added.

On Tuesday, Pakistan’s top court upheld Ms. Bibi’s November acquittal in a ruling that was seen as a blow to radical Islamists who had demanded her execution.

Ms. Bibi’s lawyer, Saiful Malook, who returned to Islamabad after fleeing the country amid death threats, called the decision a victory for Pakistan’s constitution and rule of law. The three-judge Supreme Court panel had “insisted on very strict proofs of blasphemy” and found none, the lawyer said, expressing hope that Ms. Bibi’s acquittal will deter false blasphemy allegations in the future.

Pakistan’s blasphemy law is often used to settle scores or intimidate followers of minority religions, including Shiite Muslims. A charge of insulting Islam can bring the death penalty, and the mere accusation of blasphemy is sometimes enough to whip up vengeful mobs, even if courts acquit defendants. A provincial governor who defended Ms. Bibi was shot and killed, as was a government minority minister who dared question the blasphemy law.

Following Ms. Bibi’s initial acquittal, radical religious parties took to the streets in mass protests, calling for the killing of the judges behind the ruling and for the overthrow of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government. The protests were spearheaded by the radical Tehreek-e-Labbaik party, whose single point agenda is protection of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.

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