By Naveed Murtaza
The Christian woman who spent years on death row in Pakistan for alleged blasphemy before she was acquitted last year has left the country for Canada, her lawyer confirmed on Wednesday.
Ms. Bibi, a former farmworker in her early 50s, was cleared of the charges last year and released from prison under government protection. That led to calls for her execution and violent protests by hard-line Islamists that paralyzed large parts of the country.
She has been in protective custody since she was released from prison last year after Pakistan’s top court acquitted her of blasphemy. By the afternoon of the verdict on 31 October, demonstrators wielding clubs had blocked highways and were pelting police with stones in cities including the capital, Islamabad, and Karachi.
Islamist groups including Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP), a movement dedicated to upholding Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws, protested for three days after the verdict, paralysing parts of the country until the government struck an agreement that included a promise the case would be appealed. The supreme court upheld the acquittal in January.
Canada had offered Bibi asylum, but close friends said that the woman was being prevented from leaving by authorities. Her children left for the country late last year.
Days after the verdict was announced, Bibi’s lawyer Malook sought refuge in the Netherlands, citing threats to his life for having represented her.
In February, Bibi told the Associated Press news agency through an intermediary that she was being held by Pakistani authorities in indefinite protective custody and that they would not let her leave the country.
On Tuesday, “the long running issue” of her departure from the country was resolved, her lawyer says, and Bibi is now safely in Canada and reunited with her family.