Asia Bibi is 'anything but safe', says Christian leader in Pakistan

Supporters of the Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan party chant slogans after Asia Bibi's acquittal.Reuters

A Christian leader in Pakistan has warned that radical Islamists are still trying to find Christian mother Asia Bibi 'so they can kill her'. 

Months after her death sentence for blasphemy was overturned by the Pakistani Supreme Court, Bibi remains in hiding and is 'anything but safe', according to the director of the Peace Center in Lahore, Fr James Channon. 

He told Aid to the Church in Need: 'Even now, after her acquittal, she is anything but safe.  Radical Islamists are trying to find her so they can kill her. That is why she is currently under state protection.' 

Bibi spent eight years in prison on death row after being found guilty of blasphemy.  The Christian mother-of-five had been accused by colleagues on a fruit-picking farm following a dispute over a cup of water. 

Pakistan is a majority-Muslim country where Christians account for less than two per cent of the population. They face intense persecution for their faith, often as a result of the blasphemy laws, which carry a death penalty. 

Fr Channon said there were currently 187 active blasphemy cases against Christians in Pakistan. 

'The blasphemy law destroys the lives of those who have been accused, even if they avoid being executed,' he said. 

'Any time Christians are accused of supposed blasphemy, all Christians in the region are indicted with them.  This often leads to acts of violence against Christians.' 

Fr Channon cited the ongoing case of Christian couple Shafqat Masih and Shagufta Bibi, who are facing the death penalty after being accused of sending blasphemous text messages. 

He fears the worst, even if the courts decide to free them.

'Their prospects are very weak. Even should they be acquitted, they and their children will no longer be able to live in Pakistan. Fanatic Muslims will try to kill them,' he said. 

Christians have raised the same concerns about Asia Bibi, who is still waiting for an offer of asylum from a Western country. 

The UK Government has said it is involved in discussions with Pakistan and other countries about a solution for Bibi but has so far refused to say whether an offer of asylum will be made. 

Questioned by Tory MP Rehman Chishti about what action the Government was taking, Prime Minister Theresa May said last week that she would not comment on the details. 

'Our primary concern is for the safety and wellbeing of Asia Bibi and her family and obviously the UK High Commissioner in Islamabad is keeping me and the Government up to date with developments,' she said.

'We have been in contact with international partners about our shared desire to see a swift and positive resolution in this case, and a number of countries are in discussion about a possible alternative destination for Asia Bibi once the legal process is complete.

'I'm not going to comment on the details of that because we do not want to compromise Asia Bibi's long-term safety.'

Mr Chishti, who resigned as Conservative Party Vice-Chair over the Government's handling of Bibi's asylum case, said it 'can't be right' to leave her to find asylum in another country and that it was Britain's 'moral responsibility' to take her in.