Deportation of Asia Bibi supporter from the UK delayed

Azeem Wazir fled to the UK after a fatwah was issued following his campaigning against Pakistan's blasphemy laws

The deportation of a Pakistani Christian from the UK has been delayed as his lawyers prepare to launch a legal challenge. 

Azeem Wazir fled Pakistan in 2015 over fears for his life after he publicly criticised the country's blasphemy laws. 

In Pakistan, insulting the Prophet Muhammad is punishable by death or lengthy prison sentences and fines.  

Human rights campaigners have long protested that the laws are unjust and often abused by people seeking to settle personal grudges. 

Mr Wazir was involved in a campaign in Pakistan called 'Stop Killing Christians' and had spoken in support of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who spent eight years on death row for blasphemy before being acquitted last October. 

Even after her release from prison last November, Mrs Bibi had to go immediately into hiding because of threats to her life and was moved from one house to another as extremists went door to door trying to hunt her down. 

After a delay of several months, she was finally able to leave Pakistan last week and move to Canada, where she and her family have received asylum. 

Mr Wazir is being held in Colnbrook immigration centre near London and was told he would be deported last Friday. 

The deportation was postponed following public outcry and his lawyers are preparing to seek a judicial review.

A petition on demanding that Home Secretary Sajid Javid stop the deportation has been signed by nearly 12,000 people. 

The petition describes Mr Wazir's fears for his safety if he is forced to return to Pakistan.

"If Azeem is deported this week his family expect him to be incarcerated and charged with blasphemy which carries the death penalty. Azeem's own fear is that Islamic extremist networks will arrange for his murder," the petition reads. 

An update to the petition page says that the Home Office has delayed his deportation by four weeks.

His supporters include the Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees and the Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Rev Vivienne Faull. 

Mr Rees said: "It is inconceivable that as Canada opens its doors to give Asia Bibi and her family safety, we are on the verge of sending one of her public supporters back to Pakistan where he faces clear and very serious danger.

"Azeem is a valued member of the Bristol community and we are doing everything we can to try to make sure the Home Office reconsider this case."

Bishop Faull said: "We know that the situation for Christians in many parts of the world is extremely difficult, and Pakistan is sadly no exception.

"It's extremely concerning to see someone like Azeem being threatened with deportation at such short notice when his case clearly warrants fuller consideration."