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Asia Bibi, the Christian woman at the centre of a long-running blasphemy row, has left Pakistan for Canada

Bibi has been widely believed to have been held in protective custody by authorities as she awaited an asylum deal in a third country.

File photo of Asia Bibi from 2010.
File photo of Asia Bibi from 2010.
Image: AP/PA Images

ASIA BIBI, THE Christian woman at the centre of a decade-long blasphemy row, has left Pakistan for Canada to be reunited with her daughters, months after her death sentence was overturned to mass protests by Islamist hardliners.

Wilson Chawdhry of the British Pakistani Christian Association told The Associated Press he received a telephone text message from a British diplomat stating simply that “Asia is out.”

A close friend of Bibi also confirmed that she had left the country, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.

Her departure was reported by Dawn, Pakistan’s biggest English-language newspaper, and Geo News, one of the country’s largest private broadcasters. Both cited unnamed official and unofficial sources.

Bibi – a labourer from central Punjab province – was first convicted of blasphemy in 2010 and was on death row until her acquittal last year.

Her case swiftly became the most infamous in Pakistan, drawing worldwide attention to extremism in the country where blasphemy is an incendiary issue. It carries a maximum death penalty under the country’s penal code.

Mere allegations of insulting Islam have sparked lynchings in the past.

Bibi has technically been free to leave Pakistan since January when the Supreme Court dismissed a legal challenge to her acquittal in October.

Since then, Bibi has been widely believed to have been held in protective custody by authorities as she awaited an asylum deal in a third country.

Many blasphemy cases in Pakistan see Muslims accusing Muslims, but rights activists have warned that religious minorities – particularly Christians – are often caught in the crossfire, with such accusations used to settle personal scores.

© – AFP 2019 with reporting from Associated Press 

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