Asia Bibi: British imams call for Christian woman released from Pakistan death row to get asylum in UK

A letter to Home Secretary Sajid Javid pledging support is backed by MPs from Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and DUP partie

Alexander Britton
Wednesday 14 November 2018 14:08 GMT
Ashiq Mesih (R) and Eisham Ashiq, the husband and daughter of Asia Bibi, speak during an interview with AFP in London on 12 October 2018 (BEN STANSALL /
Ashiq Mesih (R) and Eisham Ashiq, the husband and daughter of Asia Bibi, speak during an interview with AFP in London on 12 October 2018 (BEN STANSALL / (AFP/Getty Images))

Three British Imams have joined in calls from former foreign secretary Boris Johnson to help a Pakistani Christian woman facing threats to her life after being acquitted of blasphemy.

Asia Bibi was released following eight years on death row after being accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad, which sparked violent protests by hard-liners.

Last week her husband, Ashiq Masih, called for the UK to grant the mother and her family refuge amid fears for their safety after the Pakistan Supreme Court overturned her continued detention.

Imam Qari Asim, Imam Mamadou Bocoum and Imam Dr Usama Hasan are among the signatories of a letter to Home Secretary Sajid Javid which calls for him to make a "clear and proactive statement that Britain would welcome a request for sanctuary here".

The letter, also signed by Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and DUP MPs, added: "We are confident that action to ensure Asia Bibi and her family are safe would be very widely welcomed by most people in Britain, across every faith in our society.

"If there are intolerant fringe voices who would object, they must be robustly challenged, not indulged."

It said that "freedom of religious expression" is one of the most important values in Britain.

"This is especially valued by minority faiths in our society. Its foundation is respect for the beliefs of others, of all faiths and none," it said.

"This country has a long tradition of offering protection, stretching back to the Huguenots. We should seek to act in this case too."

It follows a letter from Mr Johnson earlier this week in which he said: "We cannot allow the threat of violence to deter us from doing the right thing."

Ms Bibi was arrested in 2009, accused of insulting Islam's prophet during an argument with fellow farm workers and sentenced to death for blasphemy.

Lawyers have denied she ever insulted Islam.

Campaigners have long criticised Pakistan's blasphemy laws, saying they are misused to abuse religious minorities.

At the end of October, Pakistan's Supreme Court acquitted her, upholding the law but saying there was not enough evidence to convict her.

Protests across Pakistan after acquittal of Asia Bibi blasphemy trial

The official route to asylum would mean the family would need to make the request after fleeing Pakistan.

However, the Pakistani government reached a deal with Islamists to restrict Ms Bibi's travel while the case is reviewed.

Sara Khan, lead commissioner for Countering Extremism, has called for Ms Bibi to be offered asylum in the UK.

She said: "Countering extremism means standing for human rights, religious freedom and equality, and standing firm against extremists who seek to do away with these fundamental rights and freedoms.

"This is an opportunity to send a clear message to extremists that our country will stand up for our values."

Press Association

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