Call to grant Asia Bibi asylum gets strident in UK

Vidya Ram London | Updated on November 13, 2018 Published on November 13, 2018

Asia Bibi

Asia yet to be offered a visa by any Western country, restraining her from leaving Pakistan safely

Calls on the UK government to offer asylum to Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian woman who was acquitted by the Pakistani Supreme Court last month, are getting strident. Now, former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has written to British Foreign Secretary Sajid Javid arguing that Asia Bibi had an “overwhelming claim for compassion” from the British government.

Rehman Chishti, the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Pakistan since 2017, also told the BBC that the UK had a “moral obligation to give sanctuary” to someone who had been “persecuted for her faith... whose life is in grave danger.”

While Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said earlier this week that his government was in talks to grant asylum to Bibi, who was acquitted of blasphemy charges by the court after eight years on death row, there has been growing pressure on the UK, too, to also offer asylum.

Her lawyer, Saif ul Malook, who has fled to the Netherlands following the violent TLP-led protests in Pakistan, told the BBC on Tuesday that Asia was yet to be offered a visa to any Western country, which remained the only impediment to her ability to leave Pakistan safely.

Over the weekend, The Observer newspaper cited a video message from her husband, Ashiq Masih , which called on the UK, Canada and others to consider offering asylum to the family.

During a candle-lit vigil in London earlier this week, Wilson Chowdhry of the British Pakistani Christian Association, warned that Britain appeared to be ignoring the plight of Asia Bibi, and this risked hitting its “vaunted and lauded position as a bastion for refuge for the oppressed.”

The Home Office has officially declined to comment on any asylum application, while others have cautioned against leaping to conclusions on the status of discussions.

“In my experience decisions like this are incredibly complicated and in some cases depend on absolute secrecy. No sensible Minister would say anything in public,” said former Conservative Party leader and former Foreign Secretary William Hague.

Others warned of the danger of the debate being misused to fit into the narrative of the far right, and its anti-Muslim agenda. “It is disingenuous for the (far) right to suggest that she and her family are not coming here (because) it would offend British Muslims,” said Zubaida Haque, Deputy Director of the race equality think-tank, the Runnymede Trust.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper, which also quoted Johnson’s letter to the Home Secretary, reported earlier this week that Britain had not offered asylum to Bibi and her family because of fears it would prompt “unrest” in the UK and attacks on British embassies.

“There are unfounded media reports that Pakistani national Asia Bibi is being denied asylum into the UK because of concerns from British Muslims,” said the Muslim Council of Britain. “We find such insinuations to be as nonsensical as they are divisive. We see no reason why Asia Bibi should be denied asylum into the UK.”

In his letter to the Home Secretary, Johnson also referenced the suggestion that there were concerns about security. “I am well aware, as a former Foreign Secretary, of the constant threat to our overseas missions, but we cannot allow the threat of violence to deter us from doing the right thing,” he wrote in the letter seen by The Daily Telegraph.

“I do not think it is a dignified position for the UK, given our historic links with Pakistan and the extent of our influence there, to look to others to do what we are allegedly nervous to do ourselves.”

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Published on November 13, 2018
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