‘Help us leave Pak­istan’– Asia Bibi’s fam­ily beg for asy­lum

The Observer - - News - Mem­phis Barker Is­lam­abad & Har­riet Sher­wood

The hus­band of a Pak­istani Chris­tian woman ac­quit­ted on charges of blas­phemy last week has begged Theresa May to grant his wife and their fam­ily asy­lum in the UK.

In a video mes­sage seen by the Ob­server, Asia Bibi’s hus­band Ashiq Masih called on the prime min­is­ter to “help us exit from Pak­istan” where thou­sands of peo­ple have protested against the supreme court’s rul­ing and de­manded that she be pun­ished.

The plea came a day af­ter Im­ran Khan’s gov­ern­ment an­nounced it would try to prevent Bibi from leav­ing the coun­try, which her sup­port­ers likened to “sign­ing her death war­rant”.

Bibi, a farm labourer, spent eight years on death row af­ter be­ing falsely ac­cused of in­sult­ing the prophet Muham­mad. This fol­lowed a row af­ter she had sipped wa­ter from the same cup as a Mus­lim. Yes­ter­day her lawyer, Saif-ul-Malook, said he had fled Pak­istan in fear of his life.

In the mes­sage recorded yes­ter­day, Masih, 55, called on May, as well as the prime min­is­ter of Canada, Justin Trudeau, and US pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, to bring his fam­ily and their long­stand­ing guardian, Joseph Nadeem, to safety in the west.

Wil­son Chowdhry, of the Bri­tish Pak­istani Chris­tian As­so­ci­a­tion, said Masih had ap­plied for asy­lum at one western em­bassy but it was not ex­pe­dit­ing the re­quest. Chowdhry said the fam­ily needed “im­me­di­ate asy­lum”, adding it was “in­cred­i­ble” no gov­ern­ment had stepped for­ward so far. “It would not do for her to die be­cause of red tape,” he said. The as­so­ci­a­tion has launched a pe­ti­tion call­ing on Jeremy Hunt, the for­eign sec­re­tary, to grant Bibi’s fam­ily asy­lum.

Last night a se­nior Con­ser­va­tive MP urged the For­eign Of­fice to raise Bibi’s case with the Pak­istani gov­ern­ment. Tom Tu­gend­hat, the chair of the for­eign af­fairs se­lect com­mit­tee, said: “It is clear that Ms Bibi, and other re­li­gious mi­nori­ties, are in grave dan­ger and prime min­is­ter Im­ran Khan needs to de­cide if he be­lieves in the rule of law or the rule of the mob.”

Pak­istan’s 3 mil­lion Chris­tians are ly­ing low in the af­ter­math of the court rul­ing. The gov­ern­ment or­dered them not to at­tend the graves of fam­ily mem­bers on All Soul’s Day, which fell on Fri­day, say­ing that large gath­er­ings could present a tar­get for at­tack.

One se­nior com­mu­nity mem­ber told the Ob­server he had re­moved the cross from his car’s rear view mir­ror.

Asia Bibi spent eight years on death row in Pak­istan.

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