By Robin Gomes
The Catholic woman who was on death row for eight years in Pakistan until her acquittal by the Supreme Court six months ago has left the country, her lawyer and media said on Wednesday.
"I have inquired within available channels, and according to them, she has left for Canada," Asia Bibi's lawyer, Saif Ul Malook told Reuters.
Pakistani government officials did not reveal her destination, or say when she left but Pakistani TV channels Geo and ARY, citing unidentified sources, reported Asia Bibi had left the country.
Asia Bibi who was imprisoned in June 2009 and condemned to death the following year, was declared innocent and ordered free on October 31. Her acquittal was upheld on January 29, dismissing a petition filed by Islamists who have called for her execution.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws remain an extremely sensitive issue in the predominantly Muslim nation. The case of Asia Bibi has polarized the people, drawing intense criticism even within the country.
Influential Punjab governor Salman Taseer and the Minister for Minorities Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic, were both assassinated in 2011 after they defended Asia Bibi and spoke out against her death sentence and the misuse of the blasphemy laws.
Shahbaz Bhatti’s brother, Paul Bhatti, has welcomed the news of Asia Bibi leaving Pakistan as “great news”. Paul, who is a physician in north Italy, told Vatican News that the Christian woman has suffered much for too long and it would have been very sad if she were not out.
He said many people have been sacrificed because of the blasphemy laws, such as his brother Shahbaz and Taseer, but finally the Chief Justice of Pakistan has declared her innocent saying this is against the tenets of Islam.
He said the verdict was a good message by the judiciary to the country, and many people felt that it was a step forward to prove that Pakistan is not a nation of extremists and that Pakistani’s believe in basic human rights.
Bhatti said that the case of Asia Bibi has aroused great interest in Canada, especially among minorities, including many Muslims. He said that the governor of Punjab, in Pakistan, who was in Canada in April, openly expressed his regret that justice had been denied to Asia Bibi for too long and that the nation was a victim of fanaticism and extremism. He hoped such cases don’t occur any more in future.
The Chief Justice who acquitted Asia Bibi was also in Canada recently and said that he was not afraid to deliver justice even though he is under threat by extremists.
Bhatti expressed satisfaction over improving relations between Muslims and Christians in Pakistan, saying they share common values and condemn killing in the name of religion.
He noted that the number of extremists in Pakistan is diminishing with fewer demonstrations and protests.