(CNSNews.com) – Calls are growing for the United States to offer refuge to the Pakistani Christian incarcerated for nine years for “blaspheming” Mohammed, amid uncertainty over her future following her recent acquittal and release from death row.
Asia Bibi’s whereabouts since her release from prison last Wednesday are not publicly known but the Pakistani foreign ministry on Sunday again denied reports that she had left the country, calling them “false and baseless.”
Tens of thousands of Muslim zealots demanding her execution have demonstrated across the country, causing millions of dollars in damage in one province alone, in support of a legal challenge to the Supreme Court decision exonerating her. They have also threatened to kill the judges.
Pakistan has some of the world’s most controversial blasphemy laws – carrying the death penalty for insulting Mohammed, life imprisonment for defiling the Qur’an, and shorter jail terms for vilifying Mohammed’s wives, relatives or “companions – and consecutive governments have bowed to radicals’ demands not to amend them.
There are more than 40 people on death row for the offense, although Asia Bibi was the first Christian woman to receive the sentence. Apart from those convicted of blasphemy, more than 65 other Pakistanis have been murdered by vigilantes since 1990 over purported blasphemy.
They include a Muslim provincial governor and a Christian cabinet minister who publicly supported Asia Bibi after her 2010 conviction.
On Sunday the leader of the Islamist political party Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI), Fazlur Rehman, charged at a meeting in Peshawar that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government was trying to end the blasphemy laws.
“The JUI will not shy away from rendering any sacrifice to protect the blasphemy law,” he said, announcing that a convention in support of the laws was being planned for Thursday.
Late last week the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), an advocacy group, reported that the British government is evidently not prepared to offer Asia Bibi asylum for fear of a hostile response from British Muslims.
“Britain was concerned about potential unrest in the country, attacks on embassies and civilians,” London’s Daily Telegraph on Sunday quoted BPCA president Wilson Chowdhry as saying.
“It does seem to me that Britain is now a country that is unsafe for those who may be tarred with an allegation of blasphemy,” he said. “We are very aware that there are extremist elements in this country.”
Asia Bibi has many supporters in the United States, and more than 820,000 people signed an American Center for Law and Justice petition against her execution. With her fate now in the balance, some are calling on the U.S. government to help her.
“Why isn’t the U.S. offering asylum to Asia Bibi?” asked Fox News’ Laura Ingraham in a tweet which included President Trump’s Twitter handle. “We shd be helping persecuted Christians brutalized by corrupt Islamists.”
“The U.S. must offer Asia Bibi asylum now,” tweeted American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Christina Hoff Sommers.
“The [Trump] administration has an opportunity to not only do what’s right and humane for Asia Bibi but change the immigration narrative re dissidents,” said M. Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. “The UK is too spineless vs Islamists. Give Asia Bibi and her family asylum now from the torrent of Islamist mobs!”
He and others, including Washington Times columnist Monica Crowley, pointed to an article on the U.S. website of Britain’s The Spectator, in which writer Ben Sixsmith noted the British government’s reported reluctance to help, and said, “If the British government is too weak to offer Bibi a safe haven, America should.”
“It would be a valuable demonstration that, for all President Donald Trump’s toughness on immigration, America can still be a sanctuary to those fleeing religious persecution,” he said.
Sixsmith argued that Trump by providing a refuge for the Christian woman could “demonstrate that America First still stands for religious freedom everywhere – at a time when countries such as Britain, for all their multiculturalism, may not.”
The reported British stance has brought some strong criticism, at home and abroad.
“I really hope that this is NOT true!” tweeted Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born naturalized American scholar known for her advocacy for women in Islamic societies. “If Asia Bibi is denied asylum in the UK then what the heck is the point of the asylum system?”
Patrick O’Flynn, a member of the European Parliament with the United Kingdom Independence Party commented that Asia Bibi was “judged to be not safe in Britain and not suitable for asylum here because of the prevalence of Islamic extremism. Sobering moment.”
In France, Caroline Fourest, a feminist and secularist writer – and former editor at the Islamist-targeted Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine – called the reported British position “really outrageous.”
“After protecting fanatics for decades, UK now refuses to protect their victims,” Fourest tweeted. “Since the [Salman] Rushdie case, their policy on those issues is a Shame. Cowardness never brings peace.”
In London, the BPCA and several other groups were planning to hold a vigil outside the Pakistani High Commission on Monday in support of “a swift and safe exit from Pakistan” for Asia Bibi.