“I want to thank an angel, a person who helped me from my imprisonment until now: that person is Jan Figel, the EU’s special envoy for Religious Freedom,” says Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian woman who spent eight years on death row after being accused of blasphemy, in her first live message from her exile in Canada. “I am really grateful and thankful to him and I wish that God may provide more people like him,” she continued.
In her message, recorded without showing her face for security reasons, Asia Bibi shows no hate, rather she is full of forgiveness and solidarity with all the victims in Pakistan.
Video was recorded by Asia Bibi early September 2019. Translation from Urdu by Pakistani human right activist Mr. Muhammad Aman Ulla
Asia Bibi decided to thank EU’s Jan Figel as a key person who negotiated her liberation. The Christian woman was convicted in 2010 after being falsely accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad in a row with her neighbours. She spent eight years on death row before last October, when Pakistan’s supreme court overturned her conviction, triggering violent protests throughout the nation and calls for the judges in the case to be killed. In that situation, Bibi was released but put in a legal limbo while waiting for the negotiations to find a country that could grant her asylum.
The importance of Mr. Figel’s role was indirectly signalled by very harsh statement of the militant Pakistani islamist network against Pakistan Government “caving in to European Union”, published in early November 2018 in immediate reaction to the verdict of acquittal. Islamist groups have regularly called for Asia Bibi to be executed and activists say she would not have been safe had she stayed in Pakistan.
“I realised how I may become a target of violent extremists…They killed Asia Bibi’s defenders in the past, they have many followers abroad as well,” Figel told The European Post.
Figel has met Pakistani governmental officials and politicians both in Brussels and in Pakistan to secure Bibi’s liberation and safety since 2016. When the situation became unbearable, the EU’s representative linked the human rights conditions in Pakistan to the GSP+ trade agreement between the European Union and Pakistan: “The status quo is not enough! The country has to move forward with the implementation of important international treaties and commitments. We, the EU, support democratic reforms and equal, inclusive citizenship for all people in Pakistan, including minorities of Christians, Ahmadis, Hindus, Sikhs and others,” he said.
Three EU Member States and Canada offered their territory as a safe place to her. Notably, the U.K. was not on the list because of concerns of unrest and turmoil in the country. In December last year Canada formally confirmed its willingness to grant asylum, Prime Minister Trudeau announced publicly in Paris when he took part of the Peace Centennial anniversary of WWI. With the help of another country, Asia Bibi and her daughters have been relocated from Lahore to a safe place in Canada where they are now all living together.