In a letter to The Times, members of the House of Lords have strongly criticised the UK government over its handling of Asia Bibi’s plea for asylum.
Asia Bibi was convicted in Pakistan of blasphemy against Islam and sentenced to death, but was recently acquitted. However, there are fears she will be killed by hardliners unless she flees the country.
Lord Alton of Liverpool, Baroness Cox and other peers said in their letter that failing to offer her sanctuary here was a ‘serious betrayal’ by the UK.
They wrote, ‘We are deeply concerned by reports that Theresa May is refusing asylum to Asia Bibi, who remains in mortal danger in Pakistan.
‘Britain’s position indicates a serious betrayal of our time-honoured commitment to offer asylum to those in need.
‘It also undermines our belief in justice, human rights, the rule of law and religious freedom, and risks us falling foul of, and succumbing to, blackmail.’
The letter referred to claims the Government decided not to grant Asia Bibi asylum over fears of reprisals from hard-line Islamists.
The Catholic mother-of-five is being hunted by hardliners in Pakistan after being freed from death row last October after accusations of committing blasphemy against Islam.
The UK is among several Western countries where her family has sought asylum but so far no concrete offer has been made.
Two days before the publication of the letter in The Times, Prime Minister Theresa May denied reports that she had refused to offer Mrs Bibi asylum on the grounds that it would stir up tensions among British Muslims.
She said, ‘The position that the Government take is very clear: our prime concern must be the safety and security of Asia Bibi and her family, and we want to see a swift resolution of the situation.’
‘We are working with others in the international community and with the Pakistani Government to ensure that our prime aim — the safety and security of Asia Bibi and her family — is provided for.’
The failure to offer asylum also prompted the resignation of Rehman Chishti as Conservative Party Vice Chairman and the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Pakistan.
In his resignation letter he wrote, ‘What I found shocking is that the British Government is failing to put into practice the core values that our country stands for; religious freedom, justice, morally doing the right thing, and that when we see injustice where an individual’s life is in clear danger and they have been persecuted for their faith, we do all that we can to help them.’