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Church leaders urge Home Secretary to offer asylum to Asia Bibi

The Pakistani Christian woman was released following eight years on death row in Pakistan.

Scottish church leaders have urged the UK Government to offer asylum to a Pakistani Christian woman facing threats to her life after being acquitted of blasphemy.

Asia Bibi was released following eight years on death row in Pakistan after being accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad, which sparked violent protests by hardliners.

Last week, her husband Ashiq Masih called for the UK to grant the mother and her family refuge amid fears for their safety after the Pakistan Supreme Court overturned her continued detention.

Seven Scottish church leaders including Rt Rev Susan Brown, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and Most Rev Leo Cushley, Roman Catholic Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, have now signed an open letter which has been sent to Home Secretary Sajid Javid urging him to grant her asylum.

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The acquittal of Asia Babi has sparked protests in Pakistan (Fareed Khan/AP)

The letter states: “Asia was acquitted on October 31, 2018.

“Although she has been reportedly reunited with her husband and three children, she needs round-the-clock protection as Tehreek-e-Labbaik (an Islamist political party in Pakistan) has called for her to be hanged and there have been several cases of extra-judicial killings of people charged with blasphemy in Pakistan.

“The threat to Asia and her family and supporters is real.

“The root cause is, of course, Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and we urge the UK Government to do all in their power to advocate for these laws to be amended to prevent their misuse and to promote tolerance and harmony between faith communities.”

The church leaders said violent protests that erupted in Pakistan after her conviction was quashed highlight the dangers facing Christians in the country, where blasphemy carries the death penalty.

They have also reiterated a call on the Home Secretary to immediately give the Umeed Bakhsh family the right to remain in the UK, saying it is clear their lives would be in danger if they were deported to Pakistan.

The family – Maqsood, Parveen and their sons Somer, 15, and Areeb, 13 – fled to Glasgow in 2012 after their lives were threatened due to their Christian faith.

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Thousands of people have signed petitions calling for brothers Areeb, left, and Somer not to be deported (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Somer is studying for five highers and hopes to become an astrophysicist, while his brother Areeb is said to be interested in art and astronomy.

Maqsood is a qualified and experienced engineer while his wife is a midwife.

More than 92,000 people have signed two petitions calling on the Home Office to allow them to stay, however the UK Government has rejected their plea for asylum, the Church of Scotland said.

The letter states: “We stand with the Christian community in Pakistan and request that the UK Government takes action to protect minority faith communities and ensure justice for all.

“With all respect, we urge you and through you, the Home Office, to grant asylum to Asia Bibi and her family in recognition of the United Kingdom’s continuing commitment to freedom of religion and belief.

“This case has put into sharp focus the dangers facing Christians in Pakistan and to that end we would implore you to grant the Umeed Bakhsh family the right to remain in the United Kingdom.”

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