1. ITV Report

Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy after years on death row leaves Pakistan

Aasia Bibi has left Pakistan. Credit: PA

Asia Bibi, a Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy after spending eight years on death row in Pakistan, has left the country for Canada to be reunited with her daughters.

Bibi was convicted of blasphemy in 2009 after a dispute with a fellow farm worker.

She spent eight years on death row until the Supreme Court last year overturned her conviction. She has since been in protective custody.

Islamic extremists have rioted over the case and threatened to kill her, and also urged the overthrow of the government after Ms Bibi’s acquittal.

Wilson Chawdhry of the British Pakistani Christian Association told the Associated Press on Wednesday that he had received a text message from a British diplomat stating simply: “Aasia is out.”

A close friend of Ms Bibi confirmed that she had left the country, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Her lawyer, Saif-ul Malook, said she had already arrived in Canada.

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Officials at Pakistan's interior and foreign ministries also confirmed her departure, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief media.

The case has brought international attention to Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law, which carries an automatic death penalty.

The mere suspicion of blasphemy against Islam can be enough to ignite mob lynchings in the country.

The accusation of blasphemy has also been used to intimidate religious minorities and to settle scores.

Radical Islamists have made the punishment of blasphemy a major rallying cry, bringing tens of thousands into the streets and paralyzing major cities.

Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province, was shot and killed by one of his guards in 2011 for defending Ms Bibi and criticising the misuse of the blasphemy law.

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.

Pakistan’s minister for minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, was assassinated later the same year after demanding justice for Ms Bibi.

Imran Khan said he will not be intimidated by the rioters. Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Prime Minister Imran Khan has vowed not to be intimidated by the rioters, saying the rule of law would decide Bibi's fate. But she was denied permission to leave the country for several months until sentiments cooled.

The friend, who last spoke to her on Tuesday, said Ms Bibi and her husband Ashiq Masih had spent the last few weeks getting their documents in order.

He said she was longing to see her daughters, with whom she talked almost daily from her secure location, protected by Pakistani security forces.

A three-judge Supreme Court panel in January cleared Ms Bibi’s final legal hurdle when they ruled there was no compelling reason to overturn the court’s earlier acquittal.

The judges accused those who charged Ms Bibi with blasphemy of committing perjury, but said they would not be tried because of the sensitivity of the case. The judges upheld the blasphemy law.