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'Asia Bibi is now free': US welcomes Pakistani Christian's arrival in Canada, says blasphemy laws jeopardise fundamental freedom

Washington: The US on Wednesday said it uniformly opposed blasphemy laws anywhere in the world, welcoming the reunification of Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi with her family in Canada, months after her death sentence was overturned.

Bibi, a mother of four from Punjab province, was taken out of Pakistan after repeated death threats from religious extremists, following the quashing of her conviction for blasphemy last year.

The 47-year-old was convicted in 2010 after being accused of insulting Islam in a row with her neighbours. She always maintained her innocence, but has spent most of the past eight years in solitary confinement.

 Asia Bibi is now free: US welcomes Pakistani Christians arrival in Canada, says blasphemy laws jeopardise fundamental freedom

File image of Asia Bibi. Reuters.

Bibi's counsel Saiful Malook confirmed that she had reached Canada.

"The United States welcomes the news that Asia Bibi has safely reunited with her family," US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

"This important step follows the decision of Pakistan's Supreme Court to acquit her of blasphemy charges in October 2018 — a decision that was subsequently upheld in January 2019," Pompeo said.

"Asia Bibi is now free, and we wish her and her family all the best following their reunification. The United States uniformly opposes blasphemy laws anywhere in the world, as they jeopardise the exercise of fundamental freedoms," he said.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) welcomed Bibi's departure from Pakistan.

"We are greatly relieved that Asia Bibi has finally been able to leave Pakistan and reunite with her family," said USCIRF chairman Tenzin Dorjee.

"While we are grateful that Asia Bibi will be able to start anew in Canada, she lost nearly a decade of her life in prison after being falsely accused of blasphemy," he said.

Unfortunately, there are at least 40 other individuals in Pakistan sentenced to death or serving life sentences on blasphemy charges, he rued.

"We ask the Pakistani government to nullify the blasphemy law and acquit them of the charges," Dorjee said.

"The news of Asia Bibi's safety is marred by the tragic bombing outside a Sufi shrine in Lahore, reminding us of the dangers members of religious minorities continue to face in Pakistan," he said.

Dorjee said the targeting of Sufi Muslims and others by non-state actors and extremist groups perpetuates a deadly cycle of sectarian violence that impedes freedom of religion or belief in Pakistan.

Asia Noreen, commonly known as Asia Bibi, was the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws. Under Pakistan's penal code, the offense of blasphemy is punishable by death or life imprisonment.

She was kept at a secret location while arrangements were made for her to leave the country.

The Supreme Court's quashing of her sentence on 31 October last year led to violent protests by religious hardliners who support strong blasphemy laws, while more liberal sections of society urged her release.

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Updated Date: May 09, 2019 09:59:29 IST