January 4, 2019
Asia Bibi spent Christmas in a safe house in Islamabad, Pakistan. I hope that’s the last time my client, a Catholic, must spend the holiday unable to live and worship in freedom.
Two months ago, a three- justice panel of the Pakistani Supreme Court overturned her 2010 conviction and death sentence for blaspheming.
Protests by religious hardliners over the possibility that she would be allowed to leave Pakistan prompted the government to bar her, at least temporarily, from departing.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government appears determined to ensure the safety of Asia and her husband, Ashiq Masih, and the couple’s two daughters, until another country agrees to take them in. Canada is their most likely destination.
Asia was still in prison, not in the courtroom, when the decision was handed down on October 31. Enraged protesters poured into the streets in several Pakistani cities.
Police escorted me from the courthouse, and I spent three days in hiding, aided by friends in the diplomatic community, before I boarded a flight for the Netherlands still wearing my Pakistani lawyer’s uniform of a black suit and white shirt.
I had insisted I wouldn’t leave without Asia, but my friends swore they would take good care of her. It was my life they feared for at that moment.
My last meeting with Asia had taken place on October 10 at the women’s prison in Multan, about 400 kilometres from my home in the eastern city of Lahore,where she had been incarcerated for the past five years.