Asia Bibi, the Christian woman who spent eight years on death row in Pakistan, was reportedly on her way to the Netherlands after her release from jail following a recent acquittal of blasphemy.
Bibi's lawyer Saif-ul-Malook, who already fled to the Netherlands, confirmed reports about her release on Wednesday, Nov. 7, through a Dutch-based foundation helping persecuted Christians.
Pakistan later denied that she had left the country, but authorities they had been moving Bibi to a "safe location." Dutch officials declined to confirm or deny reports that she was on her way to the European nation. But witnesses in Islamabad earlier saw Pakistani army units near the prison where she was released and an airport in Multan.
Sources said an ambassador from the Netherlands came to accompany Bibi. Several reports said that she and her family are on a plane.
In the Netherlands, the Christian party ChristenUnie (ChristianUnion) welcomed her release. "The release of Asia Bibi is excellent news," said ChristianUnion Parliamentarian Joël Voordewind in a statement.
Praying for Bibi
"In the last days, months, years we have been praying for her and today we can give thanks. Now the most important thing is that Asia Bibi finds safety," he added.
"Where the Netherlands can do something for her, we must do so. After that, it is important to boost the pressure on Pakistan further to abolish the life-threatening blasphemy laws for Christians."
Bibi, a farm worker, was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 after she reportedly told Muslim colleagues that Jesus Christ is alive and attempted to drink from the same well as other workers.
Besides "insulting Prophet Muhammad" she was accused "of contaminating" the well by Muslims. It prompted her detention and death sentence, which was finally overturned by a court last week.
Voordewind said that Bibi's difficulties underscore "the fragile position of Christians and other minorities in large parts of the world." Her expected arrival in the Netherlands came after her husband, Ashiq Masih, appealed for asylum as angry Muslim mobs demanded her execution.
'Extending Asylum Crucial'
However, Wilson Chowdhry, who leads the British Pakistani Christian Association told BosNewsLife, a news partner of ASSIST News Service, that asylum would have to extend to Bibi's family and other supporters.
"We call on world leaders to take a stand for truth and justice and open their doors for asylum to Asia Bibi, her entire family and also the family of Joseph Nadeem, their longtime guardian," he said.
"With the acquittal of blasphemy victim Asia Bibi, it may have been easy to forget that blasphemy laws continue to exist and be supported by the Pakistani government with the full weight of the death penalty."
The advocacy official stressed that "Timely asylum is desperately needed not only for the family of Asia Bibi but many others who could still suffer extra-judicial killing or prosecution by the state for blasphemy allegations."
It was unclear in what country Bibi's family would eventually settle. Her husband had appealed for help from leaders of the United States, Britain and Canada, countries which have large Pakistani communities.
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