Henrietta Blyth, CEO of Open Doors UK and Ireland, said:
“We are overjoyed that after years of unjust imprisonment and uncertainty while under protective custody, this devout Christian woman has finally been able to embrace her freedom. It has been a long and extremely difficult journey for her and her family. Asia Bibi’s steadfast faith is a true inspiration to millions of Pakistani Christians and to all of us worshipping freely here in the UK.”
Asia Bibi’s case has attracted worldwide attention and led to much criticism of Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws. Asia Bibi was arrested in 2009 after allegedly making derogatory comments about the Prophet Mohammad during an argument with a Muslim woman while working in the field. The Muslim woman had refused water from Asia on the grounds that it was ‘unclean’ because it had been handled by a Christian.
Asia was found guilty, becoming the first woman to be sentenced to death under Article 295C of Pakistan’s penal code, which imposes death sentences for offences of defamation against Mohammad.
In the summer of 2015 Asia was granted leave to appeal her death sentence. Finally in November 2018 she was acquitted of any wrongdoing and released from prison. But due to mass protests by anti-Christian hardliners she was barred from leaving the country as an appeal against her acquittal was launched.
On 29 January 2919 the appeal was thrown out and the Supreme Court upheld its decision to free Asia Bibi. She remained under the government protective custody in Pakistan while her two daughters were believed to have been granted asylum in Canada.
Pakistan is number 5 on the World Watch List, Open Doors’ ranking of 50 countries where Christians experience the most extreme persecution. Historic churches have been subject to bomb attacks. All Christians suffer from institutionalised discrimination, with occupations that are seen as low, dirty and derogatory being officially reserved for Christians, most of whom are from the poorer classes. Blasphemy laws are often used to target Christians. Conversion from Islam brings great shame to family and community, and danger for the new believer.