Great Britain

Asia Bibi: Pakistani woman jailed for blasphemy releases photos in exile

Asia Bibi, the Christian woman who spent eight years on death row in Pakistan for blasphemy, has released two photographs taken in exile, as she prepares for the launch of her autobiography on Wednesday.

The former farm labourer, whose case became one of the most high-profile human rights campaigns in the world, was freed last year and flew to Canada, where she was reunited with her family. They are all believed to be living under assumed identities, at a secret location, as they still receive death threats from extremists.

The autobiography, Free At Last, has been written in French with journalist Isabelle-Anne Tollet, who had become a leading campaigner for Bibi’s freedom, and wrote two books about her case.

“You know my story from the media, perhaps you have tried to put yourself in my place to understand what I suffered,” she was quoted saying in a press release announcing the new book. “But you are far from understanding my day to day existence in prison, or my new life, and that is why I tell you everything in this book.”

Bibi was originally sentenced to death on flimsy evidence in 2010 after being accused of blasphemy in a dispute over a cup of water. Two Pakistani politicians were later killed for publicly supporting her and criticising the country’s draconian blasphemy laws.

As her appeal languished in the Pakistani judicial system, she won the support of Pope Francis and human rights organisations around the world.

Blasphemy is a highly inflammatory issue in Pakistan, where even unproven accusations of insulting Islam can spark lynchings. Human rights activists say blasphemy charges are frequently used to settle personal scores.

Eventually in late 2018, Pakistan’s supreme court overturned her conviction, but that decision triggered violent protests throughout Pakistan and calls for the judges in the case to be killed.

Bibi was then officially freed from prison, but remained in “protective custody” for several months, and said she was being prevented from leaving the country after Canada offered her asylum.