Pakistani woman Asia Bibi who was imprisoned for nine years on baseless charges of insulting the prophet Mohammed, has finally been freed to join her family in Canada.
Asia Bibi had first been arrested on the false charges of blasphemy in 2009 after sharing a cup of water with Muslim farmworkers, who called her unclean.
In 2010 the Pakistani court sentenced her to death, prompting global outrage and calls for a change to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
She was not executed but was kept in prison in appalling conditions as international pressure mounted for her release.
Although she had been acquitted by the Pakistan Supreme Court of the blasphemy charges, she had been kept under house arrest in safe houses to escape extremists who were calling for her to be killed.
In May, her lawyer told news agency CNN she is now in Canada, where two of her daughters have already been granted asylum.
Release International is now calling for Pakistan to review the cases of 200 Christians behind bars for blasphemy.
Paul Robinson, chief executive of Release, said, ‘We are overjoyed Asia is finally free. But why has it taken so long for this innocent woman to be allowed to leave?
‘The government of Pakistan must act now to safeguard its Christian minority against mob reprisals by stepping up security against any suggestion of rioting and violence.
‘And it must urgently review the case against every other prisoner who has been accused and jailed for blasphemy’.
Release partners in Pakistan have claimed there are 218 Christians who still face blasphemy charges.
Moreover, the British Pakistani Christian Association has warned that nine out of ten Pakistanis still consider Asia Bibi to be a blasphemer, making her a target for assassination.
According to the BBC, since 1990 more than 70 people have been killed by lynch mobs after being accused of blasphemy.
Paul Coleman, executive director of legal advocacy organisation ADF International, commented, ‘Asia Bibi’s case is not an isolated incident but testifies to the plight that many Christians and other religious minorities experience in Pakistan today.
‘While the right to religious freedom is protected by the Pakistani constitution, many face severe persecution and denial of their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and assembly. Blasphemy laws directly violate international law’.