Aasia ‘reunited with family’ in Canada


–Mike Pompeo says Aasia Bibi ‘safely reunited’ with her family

ISLAMABAD: Aasia Bibi, who was acquitted by the Supreme Court in a blasphemy case after spending 8 years on death row, on Wednesday left Pakistan for Canada, said media reports.

According to media reports that quote sources at the Foreign Office Aasia Bibi has left the country as she was a “free person and travelled on her independent will”.

Aasia flew out of Pakistan after being held for months in protective custody by Pakistani authorities following her acquittal, her counsel Saiful Malook said while talking to a media outlet.

She joins her husband and two daughters, Malook said. “She has gone to Canada, she will live there now as she has been granted asylum by them,” he said.

After Aasia’s release, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had said that his government was holding talks with Pakistan over possibly offering asylum to Aasia Bibi.

Aasia was accused of blasphemy in 2009 after she had an argument with a group of Muslim women. She was sentenced to death in 2010 by a lower court and the same was upheld by the Lahore High Court in response to her appeal in 2014.

In a statement issued late Wednesday night, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Aasia Bibi has been reunited with her family.

“The United States welcomes the news that Aasia Bibi has safely reunited with her family,” he said in a statement. “Aasia is now free, and we wish her and her family all the best following their reunification.”

Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declined to confirm whether she arrived in Canada.

“There are sensitive privacy issues and security issues on this and so I can’t comment,” Trudeau told reporters outside the Parliament.

While British Prime Minister Theresa May appeared to confirm that Canada was her destination while speaking on the floor of the House of Commons.

“Canada made this offer and we thought it was right and appropriate that we supported the offer that Canada had made,” May said.

On November 1, the Supreme Court acquitted Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman condemned to death on blasphemy charges after accepting her 2015 appeal against her sentence.

Then chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar, who was heading the three-member bench comprising Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel, read the 56-page verdict and announced the Lahore High Court (LHC) verdict was set aside and directed authorities to release Aasia Bibi from prison.

“The appeal is allowed. She has been acquitted. The judgement of the high court, as well as the trial court, is reversed. Her conviction is set aside,” Justice Khosa added a separate opinion in the verdict.

The apex court added that Aasia is to be set free if she is not wanted in any other case.

The 56-page detailed judgement has been authored by CJP Nisar, with a separate concurrent opinion note from Justice Khosa.

The 51-year-old Christian woman was on the death row since November 2010 after she was convicted on charges of committing blasphemy during an argument with two Muslim women in Sheikhupura.

Her case gained prominence after then Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer pleaded for a retrial of her case and was subsequently shot dead by one of his guards, Mumtaz Qadri, in January 2011.

Bibi challenged the verdict in October 2014, however, the LHC upheld the death sentence. The apex court had stayed the execution in July 2015.

After a three-year hiatus, a three-judge special bench, headed by Mian Saqib Nisar, and comprising Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Miankhel, heard the appeal.

The hearing lasted nearly two hours and 45 minutes, during which both the prosecution and defence presented their points of view over the conviction.

Members of civil society, including veteran politician Farhatullah Babar, were in attendance during the proceeding. Unlike previous hearings, a few religious clerics were present inside and outside the courtroom.

The bench restrained the media from discussing, publishing or airing any comment about the proceedings till the announcement of the judgment. During the hearing, the bench pointed out several discrepancies in the statements of the prosecution and the witnesses.

On the day the court reserved its judgment, Saiful Malook, counsel for Aasia Bibi, had argued that the appellant had not committed blasphemy and was being “persecuted due to her religious beliefs”.

Representing the complainant before the bench, Advocate Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry had contended that nothing could be cited in the investigation and cross-examination before a court of law, which was a denial of occurrence of a blasphemous act.