In his letter of resignation to British Prime Minister Theresa May, the former vice chairman of the Conservative party stressed that the government’s treatment of Asia Bibi was one of the reasons for his departure.
Three weeks after Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted her of blasphemy, a Christian woman who had been on death row for eight years was freed from detention, but her whereabouts are a closely guarded secret following demands by Muslim extremists that she be hanged in public.
The case of Asia Bibi has become a political minefield for Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. He has been trying to placate the Muslim fanatics who have threatened to topple his government while keeping the 54-year-old mother of five safe from a lynch mob and searching for a way to allow her to leave Pakistan without bringing rioters into the streets.
“Adnan Khan, chairman of the U.S-based Council of Pakistan, insisted that – contrary to reports – the Pakistan government has indeed ‘come down very hard on all protesters and the Islamist parties’ and resolved that no new charges would be brought against Bibi,” according to Fox News.
Bibi has been offered asylum by the European Parliament, which championed her case after she was convicted in 2010 under Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy law.
Fox News reported that the United Kingdom denied her political asylum out of fear for the safety of their consular staff in Pakistan. That decision has been slammed by lawmakers, religious leaders, and other critics.
UK’s inaction ‘shocking’
“This is shocking. Britain has historically had a quick response to come to the aid of those suffering human rights abuses,” Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), told Fox News. “But a Christian mother of five who has been exonerated has not been offered asylum.”
“There have been many advocates for Asia in the UK,” Chowdhry stated. He has since created a petition calling on Western governments to take action, according to Fox News, noting that several Muslim leaders have also been trying to help Bibi.
According to Chowdry, most disturbing is videos that have emerged showing children play-acting at hanging Bibi.
William Stark, International Christian Concern’s regional manager for South Asia, conceded that while there is “a real threat to the embassies of the governments involved in helping Asia and those involved in the case,” he was “surprised” by the UK’s inaction.
In his letter of resignation to British Prime Minister Theresa May last week, the Conservative Party’s now-former vice chairman, Rehman Chishti, emphasized that one of his reasons for stepping down was the “manner in which the Government has dealt with the case regarding Asia Bibi,” Fox Newsreported.
“This is a case that I have worked on passionately since 2012 … to ensure that justice is done which was handed down by the Pakistan Supreme Court only recently,” he wrote.
‘Core values’ of Britain ignored
“What I found shocking is that the British Government is failing to put into practice the core values that our country stands for; religious freedom, justice, morally doing the right thing, and that when we see injustice where an individual’s life is in clear danger and they have been persecuted for their faith, we do all we can to help them,” he added, according to Fox News.
In Chishti’s view, “the government should not wait to see if another country offers sanctuary, we should have had the conviction to lead on this matter and offer sanctuary ourselves straight away.”
The Pakistani government has moved Bibi and her family to an undisclosed secure location, the report said.
Bibi’s ordeal began on a blistering hot day in 2009 when she went to fetch water for herself and fellow farmworkers. An argument took place after two women refused to drink from the same container as Bibi, who is Roman Catholic.
The two women later said Bibi had insulted the Prophet Muhammad. She was charged with blasphemy, put on trial, convicted and sentenced to death in 2010.
While her conviction was appealed, the case gained worldwide attention and focused international criticism on the blasphemy law. In announcing her acquittal last week, a three-judge panel of the Supreme Court upheld the law itself but said prosecutors had failed to prove Bibi had violated it.
Others offer asylum
European Parliament President Antonio Tajani invited Bibi and her family to Europe. In a letter, a copy of which was seen by the AP, Tajani told Bibi’s husband Ashiq Masih that the parliament is “extremely concerned for your safety as well as your family’s, due to the violence by extremist elements in Pakistan.”
The letter added to expectations that she and her family would leave for Europe, though their destination has not been confirmed. Spain and France have offered her asylum.
Speaking to the AP last month in the Punjab capital of Lahore, Masih said he hasn’t slept much since his wife’s acquittal and the subsequent outrage by extremists. His initial joy quickly turned to sadness when he realized the ordeal was not over.
He said that he is consumed by fear every time his phone rings and haunted by the shouts of “Hang her!”
“Sometimes I pace on the rooftop, sometimes I walk on the road outside our home,” he said. “I look at the faces around me and I wonder if anyone is waiting to hurt us.”
For Bibi’s husband, leaving Pakistan is painful but remains a matter of life and death.
“We have no other choice but to leave,” he said. “I love Pakistan but I can’t live here.”
The 2018 Open Doors World Watch listed Pakistan as the fifth-most difficult country for a Christian to reside, after Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan and North Korea.