Home Secretary Sajid Javid says Asia Bibi's safety is his 'first concern'

Asia BibiWorld Watch Monitor

The Home Secretary has defended the Government's response to an appeal for asylum from the family of Asia Bibi.

The Government has come under pressure to offer asylum to Bibi since she was freed from prison last month after having her death sentence for blasphemy overturned.

The acquittal by the Pakistani Supreme Court led to violent protests being staged by Muslim radicals across Pakistan, and the mother-of-five remains in hiding following death threats.

Answering questions from Labour MP Mike Kane in the House of Commons on Monday, Home Secretary Sajid Javid said he was not able to comment on the exact details of the UK Government's involvement as it may put Bibi and her family at greater risk of harm.

But he insisted that the safety of Bibi and her family was his 'first concern' and that the Government was working with other countries towards a resolution.

'Our primary concern is for the safety and security of Asia Bibi and her family, and we welcome a swift resolution to the situation. A number of countries are in discussions about providing a safe destination once the legal process is complete, and it would not be right for me to comment further at this stage,' he said.

He added: 'It is not appropriate for me to talk about a particular case, especially if there is a risk that it might put the individual or their family in some kind of further risk, but I assure him that my first concern is the safety of Asia and her family. We are working with a number of countries and I will do anything I can to keep her safe.'

Last week, Prime Minister Theresa May was forced to deny reports that she had rejected the family's appeal for asylum over fears that it might stir up tensions among British Muslims.

She said the Government was working with other countries on a resolution but that it was not in Bibi's best interests to divulge the discussions with Pakistan.

'The position that the Government take is very clear: our prime concern must be the safety and security of Asia Bibi and her family, and we want to see a swift resolution of the situation,' she said.

'Obviously, there is a primary function for the courts and Government in Pakistan. The Prime Minister, Imran Khan, has publicly supported the Supreme Court and has promised to uphold the rule of law, while providing continued protection for Asia Bibi.

'We could approach this in two ways. We could go out there and say something, just to show that the UK is doing that, or we could ask what is right for Asia Bibi. We are working with others in the international community and with the Pakistani Government to ensure that our prime aim—the safety and security of Asia Bibi and her family—is provided for.'

The Church of England has also faced criticism for its perceived silence in response to Bibi's case.

In a debate on Christian persecution in the House of Commons last week, DUP MP Jim Shannon asked whether the Church of England had held discussions with the Home Office to request asylum for Bibi.

In her reply, the Second Church Estates Commissioner Dame Caroline Spelman indicated that talks had been held with the Home Office but echoed concerns about the need for caution.

'I can give the honorable Gentleman reassurance, and I sympathise with his concern for Asia Bibi. The information we have is that we need to be extremely careful that we do not exacerbate risks to Asia Bibi and her family,' she said.