Should the US Grant Asia Bibi Refuge? Some Prominent Americans Say Yes

By Patrick Goodenough | November 15, 2018 | 4:57am EST
Asia Bibi, a Roman Catholic mother of five, was sentenced to death in 2010 for blasphemy, and acquitted by Pakistan's Supreme Court a fortnight ago. (Photo: Twitter)

( – President Trump should invite the imperiled Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi to come to the United States and request asylum, Foundation for Defense of Democracies President Clifford May said Wednesday, arguing that the move would be “just, moral and wise.”

In an op-ed, May, a former commissioner on the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), wrote that the step would be just and moral because her life is in danger in Pakistan.

And it would be wise to invite Asia Bibi to America, May added, because Trump is being vilified for refusing to admit “caravans” of Central American immigrants heading for the U.S. border, and U.S. citizens have a right and responsibility to decide how many immigrants the country takes in, “and who should be at the front of the long line.”

Two weeks after the Pakistan Supreme Court acquitted her of blasphemy charges that carried the death penalty, the Roman Catholic mother’s fate remains uncertain. She is free but her whereabouts are not publicly known. Radicals continue to demand her execution and the government appears unwilling to facilitate her departure from a country in which Muslim vigilantes have murdered more than 65 people accused of blasphemy.

The British government has come under strong criticism at home for declining to offer her asylum – reportedly for fear of an angry reaction by some in Britain’s large Pakistani community (which comprises around 1.85 percent of the population, according to 2011 census figures.)

Prominent commentators in the U.S. have begun to call on Trump to offer Asia Bibi refuge, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Fox News’ Laura Ingraham and M. Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, and also a former USCIRF commissioner.

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich on Wednesday indicated support for May’s argument, posting a tweet linking to the op-ed, with the comment, “Powerful read.”

Backing is not limited to conservatives. In response to queries, a spokesman for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) confirmed that the senator would support calls for asylum for Asia Bibi, “assuming her life is in danger, which is a virtual certainty, and assuming she wants asylum in the U.S.”

Earlier this year Leahy helped to secure an amendment in a State and Foreign Operations appropriations bill in support of Asia Bibi, who at the time had been on death row for eight years.

American Values president Gary Bauer, a current USCIRF commissioner, said in an email late Wednesday that although the commission has not voted on the issue of offering Asia Bibi asylum in the U.S., “it is my personal view that if she and her family desire asylum here we should grant it.”

“I suspect most of my fellow commissioners would agree,” he added.

‘The United States historically has stood for these values’

Earlier, Bauer discussed the issue with VoA’s Greta van Susteren, and cited reports that Britain “may have caved into pressure from their Pakistani immigrant population” to not grant refuge to Asia Bibi.

“I haven’t confirmed that, but if that’s true that’s very disturbing,” he said.

Van Susteren asked about potential security threats to diplomatic missions that could result from any country granting refuge to “someone who is – lack of a better word – radioactive.”

“There are people that have to worry about security issues and so forth,” Bauer replied, “but if the United States starts retreating on these issue, or not be a haven for a woman like the one that we’re discussing right now, then I think we give up so much of our own values that it makes any security issues pale in comparison.”

“The United States historically has stood for these values, even if that meant there’s a mob outside of our embassy,” he added.

Queries send to the State Department brought no response by press time. USCIRF spokesperson Kellie Boyle said the commission “continues to closely monitor the crisis in Pakistan and to advocate for the elimination of its blasphemy laws.”

Pakistan enforces some of the world’s most rigid blasphemy laws, and more than 40 people are currently on death row after being convicted under them. Asia Bibi was the first Christian woman to be sentenced to death, after a spat with Muslim coworkers in 2009 led to accusations that she had “blasphemed” Mohammed.

The USCIRF is an independent, statutory watchdog that advises the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government on violations of religious freedom around the world.

Although it has not taken a stance on refuge for Asia Bibi, it did earlier welcome her release and, “in anticipation of the likelihood of an outbreak of social unrest following this decision,” urged the authorities in Pakistan to ensure her safety.

The commission also called on Pakistan’s government to free the 40 other prisoners sentenced to death for blasphemy, and to repeal the laws.

Since 2002 the USCIRF has made annual recommendations to the State Department that Pakistan be designated a religious freedom “country of particular concern” under U.S. law, and every year the State Department has overruled the advice. Designation can lead to punitive measures including sanctions.

Last January the Trump administration for the first time placed Pakistan on a second-tier “special watch list.”


See earlier stories:

Protests, Death Threats Roil Pakistan After Acquittal of Christian on Death Row for Blasphemy (Nov. 1, 2018)

Christian Woman Acquitted of Blasphemy Forced to Remain in Pakistan, As Radicals Demand Her Death (Nov. 5, 2018)

US Should Offer Refuge to Asia Bibi, Say Supporters of Christian Accused of Blasphemy (Nov. 12, 2018)

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