Pakistani woman acquitted of blasphemy offered asylum in France

Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy in Pakistan, has said she had been invited to live in France, after a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Bibi had been sentenced to death before her acquittal by the Supreme Court last year in a case that has become emblematic of fair trial concerns in such cases. She left Pakistan for Canada in May 2019 and has been living there with her family ever since.

“I have received the invitation from the president and the French Republic, and I’m honoured,” Bibi told reporters on Friday, shortly after meeting Macron.

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Speaking outside the Elysee Palace in Paris, Bibi said she needed time to make a decision about whether to move to France, adding she wanted to focus for now on her health and family.

An Elysee official told Reuters news agency that “France is ready to welcome her if that is her wish, in accordance with the procedures for a request for asylum”.

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Under French rules, someone seeking asylum has to submit a request to an independent state agency, which decides whether to grant it. It was not clear if Bibi had submitted a request.

Bibi, a farmworker and mother of four, was convicted in 2010 of making derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbours working in the fields with her objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not a Muslim.

She spent eight years on death row.

Bibi was released in October 2018 after the Supreme Court overturned her conviction, saying there were “glaring and stark” contradictions in the case against her.

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But thousands of religious hardliners, including supporters of the far-right Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), took to the street calling for Bibi’s death and demanding that the government prevent her from leaving Pakistan.

Blasphemy is a sensitive subject in Pakistan, where the country’s strict laws prescribe a mandatory death penalty for some forms of the crime.


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