Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy leaves Pakistan for Canada

Aasia Bibi

"I have inquired within available channels, and according to them she has left for Canada", Bibi's lawyer, Saif Ul Malook told Reuters.

"She should never have been imprisoned in the first place, let alone endure the constant threats to her life". The Supreme Court's quashing of her sentence on October 31 past year led to violent protests by religious hardliners who support strong blasphemy laws, while more liberal sections of society urged her release.

"Asia Bibi is now free, and we wish her and her family all the best following their reunification".

Bibi's backstory is well known after global attention was focused on her case.

Bibi - a laborer from Pakistan's central Punjab province - was first convicted of blasphemy in 2010 and was on death row until her acquittal past year.

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

The friend, who last spoke to her on Tuesday, said Bibi and her husband Ashiq Masih had spent the last several weeks getting their documents in order. Bibi may spend the rest of her days looking over her shoulder in fear of an worldwide assassin. Two of Bibi's daughters are understood to have been granted asylum in Canada. "Her children are in Ottawa and she has been reunited with them".

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It is an incendiary issue in the Muslim-majority country, and mere allegations of insulting Islam have sparked lynchings and vigilante violence in the past. The assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, has been celebrated as a martyr by hardliners since he was hanged for the killing, with millions visiting a shrine set up for him near Islamabad.

In addition, Shahbaz Bhatti, who was the federal minister for minority affairs at the time, was shot dead by self-proclaimed Taliban gunmen in March 2011 after he called for the reform of blasphemy laws and declared his support for Bibi.

The Supreme Court ruled October 31 that the basis of the blasphemy charge was a "concocted" story and overturned the guilty verdict.

Bibi was convicted in 2010 under section 295-C of Pakistan's penal code, which punishes blasphemy against Islam's prophet. He said she was longing to see her daughters, with whom she talked nearly daily from her secure location, protected by Pakistani security forces.

The vociferousness of Pakistan's hardline Islamists, along with the blasphemy laws which activists say unfairly tackle religious minorities, make being a practicing Christian problematic in Pakistan.

While no one has been executed by the Pakistani government for blasphemy, at least 65 people accused of the "crime" have been murdered by Muslim vigilantes since 1990.

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