By Lucia Suarez Sang, Hollie McKay
Published May 08, 2019
After spending eight years on death row, the 54-year-old’s conviction was overturned last year by the Supreme Court. Despite being a “free woman” after the death sentence was thrown out, she has been in protective custody - itself a kind of prison - because of religious extremists' calls for her hanging.
She had been denied permission to leave the country for several months as the government waited for sentiments to cool.
An official in Islamabad also confirmed to Fox News that Bibi left Pakistan to be reunited with her daughters in Canada.
"It was a good decision," the official said, noting that it had to be done very discreetly without media attention to avoid blowback.
Additional information about how and when she left Pakistan was not immediately available. Sources close to Bibi told Fox News she left Pakistan at some point Tuesday in a shroud of secrecy, from an undisclosed location in Karachi and bound for Canada.
Her lawyer, Saif-ul Malook, said she had already arrived in Canada and although he has not spoken directly to Bibi since her departure, said that she is believed to be doing well despite her ordeal. But going from years in prison to protective custody to, now, the western world will no doubt be a challenging adjustment.
"But the wonderful news is that she is out," he said. "She is free now. The case is over and she can move on safely with her life in Canada."
Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association who has long liaised with diplomats and Bibi's husband concerning her case, underscored that she "bravely held onto her faith" throughout the brutal calamity.
"She was offered freedom on several occasions by officials and prison workers pressuring her to convert to Islam and if she did, she would immediately be released," he claimed. "She deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. She refused to capitulate, she is a testimony to us all."
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt tweeted his happiness at the news of Bibi's departure.
"Fantastic news that Asia Bibi appears to have left Pakistan safely," he tweeted, adding that he was about to meet U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo "to talk about persecution of Christians around the world."
Moreover, International Christian Concern, which has long advocated for Bibi's release and safety, expressed joy at the news she was finally free.
"Our prayers are now with Asia and her family as they seek peace and security in a new country," ICC's regional manager William Stark said. "However, we are also very concerned for the safety of Pakistan's Christian community at-large. Asia's case remains highly sensitive and the ignition point for many acts of religious hatred."
Bibi’s case brought international attention to Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law, which carries an automatic death penalty. The mere suspicion of blasphemy against Islam is enough to ignite mob lynchings in the country.
Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province, was shot and killed by one of his own guards in 2011 for defending Bibi and criticizing the misuse of the blasphemy law. The assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, has been celebrated as a martyr by hard-liners 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 that year after demanding justice for Bibi.
Over the past three decades, more than 65 people have been slain in Pakistan over accusations of blasphemy. The Christian community, which makes up less than two percent of the Muslim-majority nation, has routinely come under attack by non-state actors and promoted international concern with regards to extremism and intolerance.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.