Fata Voice News Agency
ISLAMABAD: The daughters of a Pakistani Christian woman who narrowly avoided a death sentence for blasphemy have been given asylum in Canada, says an international media report, but the government won’t say if the report is true.
Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland’s office wouldn’t respond to specific questions about whether Asia Bibi’s children have taken asylum here
According to international media reports, Asia Bibi, who was acquitted in October by the Pakistani Supreme Court, remains in protective custody in Pakistan — an appeal of her case is pending — and continues to be the subject of violent protests and threats against her life.
At the end of November, Bibi’s brother-in-law Joseph Nadeem said people had been shooting at the house where he and Bibi’s two daughters were living and that the family faces “constant threats.” Nadeem said he hoped that his family and Bibi’s daughter would be out of the country by Christmas, according to a report on the Aid to the Church in Need website.
A report Wednesday from the Associated Press said Bibi’s daughters “were taken to Canada for their safety.”
The case marks a striking contrast to the recent high-profile arrival of Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, an 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled family violence and has been given asylum in Canada. Alqunun caught the world’s attention with a social media campaign.
The National Post has been unable to independently verify the Associated Press report. Calls and emails to Bibi’s family weren’t returned and a spokesperson for Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland wouldn’t respond to specific questions about whether Canada has allowed Bibi’s children to take asylum here.
Freeland’s office responded with a general statement about the Bibi case.
“The case of Asia Bibi is a priority for our government, and we are focused on ensuring the safety of her and her family,” said Adam Austen, Freeland’s press secretary. “We are working with like-minded friends and allies on this issue. Canada is prepared to do everything we can to ensure the safety of Asia Bibi.”
It’s possible that the asylum claim for Bibi’s daughters has been kept quiet over fears publicity could endangering the safety of the women.
“The family safety should be paramount,” said Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel. “We wouldn’t want (Bibi) to be used as a photo opportunity due to the safety concern.”
In the wake of the recent arrival of Alqunun, who was met at the airport by Freeland and a pack of news media, Rempel said she worried about government’s instinct to make these decisions into media events.
Rempel said she held off on commenting on the Alqunun asylum claim because she was concerned that reckless comments could endanger the girl. Rempel questioned the wisdom of the government’s announcement to the press, noting that Alqunun was already receiving threats and had been given a security detail.
Reaction to the Bibi case would likely be even stronger, especially considering she was charged with blasphemy. The Supreme Court acquittal sparked protests in several major cities in Pakistan and led to death threats against the judges.
In Alqunun’s case, she caught the world’s attention with a social media campaign while she was holed up in a hotel in Thailand. Rempel said she wants the government to better explain how they make asylum decisions, especially when it appears that they are being made on-the-fly.
“We can’t be making these determinations off Twitter. We actually have to be doing some due diligence,” Rempel said. Both cases appear to be solid asylum cases, but the government didn’t appear to have a system for dealing with them, she said.
“Asia Bibi is a clear case of someone who should be granted asylum in Canada,” said Rempel.
Canada, Britain, the United States and Italy, among others, have been working for Bibi’s release from Pakistan, but to no avail.
In November, Andrew Leslie, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs, said there were “discreet and delicate discussions underway” about removing Bibi from Pakistan. Later that month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told media in Paris that his government was “in discussion with the Pakistani government” about the matter and mentioned the “delicate domestic context” in Pakistan.
In October, Eisham Ashiq, 19, Bibi’s youngest daughter, visited London with her father and made a plea for her mother’s freedom, which would be granted by the Pakistani Supreme Court weeks later. Bibi spent eight years on death row after a colleague at work referred to Christians as “unclean” and she defended her religion in the argument.
In the November report in Aid to the Church in Need, Nadeem said that Bibi “was very concerned for the safety of her daughters.” ACN is a Catholic charity organization that provides support to Christians who are persecuted and oppressed.
“We are hoping to be able to leave Pakistan soon and live in a safe place,” said Nadeem, at the time.