Asia Bibi, Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy after years on death row, has left Pakistan: Source

A Pakistani supporter of hardline religious party Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat stands on an image of Christian woman Asia Bibi as they march during a protest rally following the Supreme Court's acquittal of Ms Bibi, in Islamabad on Nov 2, 2018.
A Pakistani supporter of hardline religious party Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat stands on an image of Christian woman Asia Bibi as they march during a protest rally following the Supreme Court's acquittal of Ms Bibi, in Islamabad on Nov 2, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD (DAWN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, AFP) - Ms Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was acquitted by the Supreme Court in a blasphemy case last year, has left Pakistan, a well-placed Foreign Office source told DawnNewsTV on Wednesday (May 8).

"Asia Bibi has left the country. She is a free person and travelled on her independent will," the source said.

The source did not specify her destination. But Ms Bibi’s lawyer Saif ul Mulook and multiple security sources in Pakistan told AFP that she had gone to Canada.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declined yesterday to confirm whether Ms Bibi has arrived in Canada. 

"There are sensitive privacy issues and security issues on this and so I can’t comment," Mr Trudeau told reporters outside parliament.

Ms Bibi was acquitted of blasphemy charges by the Supreme Court on Oct 31 last year, after spending nine years in jail on death row. The ruling sparked country-wide protests by religio-political groups.

After she was released from a Multan women's prison on Nov 7, she was flown to Islamabad via special aircraft, and then taken to an undisclosed location amid tight security.

The authorities remained tight-lipped about her movements and whereabouts for security reasons.

Mr Qari Salam, the complainant in the case, filed a petition seeking review of the judgment in January this year, which the Supreme Court dismissed on merit.

'FALSE TESTIMONIES'

The allegations against Ms Bibi were made in June 2009 when she was labouring in a field and a row broke out with some Muslim women she was working with.

 
 
 

She was asked to fetch water, but the Muslim women objected, saying that as a non-Muslim, she was unfit to touch the water bowl. A few days later, the women went to a local cleric and put forward the blasphemy allegations.

Speaking in January on the incident that sparked the allegations, Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa said: "You are saying that Asia said this (alleged blasphemous words) while addressing 25 people. Was she addressing a jalsa (rally)?"

CJ Khosa made this remark when he was heading a three-member bench to hear an appeal filed by the complainant against the Supreme Court's verdict of acquittal.

"In front of the investigation officer, the women said that no dispute had occurred between them," the CJ noted. "This case did not have as many honest witnesses as it should have had.

"The investigation officer says that the female witnesses changed their statements. The testimonies of the investigation officer and the witnesses are different.

"The falsa farm's owner did not appear in court to record his testimony. According to the law, if a testimony is not recorded under Section 342 of the CrPC (recording a statement by the accused), then it does not have any value.

"The farm's owner only came forward after the police started the investigation, 20 days after (it started). His testimony holds no legal value. The delay of an hour is enough to create suspicion."

The lawyer maintained that the petitioners did not add Ms Bibi to the case due to any ill intention.

CJ Khosa questioned the five-day delay in registering of the FIR, or first information report, regarding the incident, also pointing out that the testimonies differed over the size and the place of the crowd which had gathered following the accusations against Ms Bibi.

"Qari says a crowd had gathered and then the FIR was registered. The testimonies of the villagers do not mention a crowd gathering. A lot of lies were told about a crowd having gathered.

"Had this been a normal case, we would have registered cases against the witnesses; we have shown a lot of patience."

At this, the lawyer admitted that there was "some difference" in the testimonies.

"Difference? These are lies," replied the CJ.

"Is this the picture of Islam that he (Qari) wants to present? Are these the kind of witnesses (that should be presented in a case)?

"There is a clear difference between the testimonies of all the witnesses, and yet you block all of Pakistan questioning why you did not get your way," CJ Khosa reprimanded the lawyer.

"You blame us and say what kind of people are we (for acquitting Asia)... Look at yourself, what kind of accusation have you made.

"We took into account the sensitivity of the case, otherwise we would have put the witnesses in jail for their false testimonies.

"Are we liable to be murdered now that we have executed justice? Is this Islam?

"If a judge says a testimony can't be trusted, that judge's verdict is not acceptable to you - because it is not in your favour?"

Reiterating what CJ Khosa had asked multiple times during the hearing, Justice Qazi Faez Isa, who was also on the bench, said: "Tell us what the flaw in the verdict is."

"We will not hear the case again," remarked CJ Khosa. "We are hearing (the petition) for the satisfaction of those who gave fatwas (on the verdict) without reading it."