Politics

Ottawa engaged in 'delicate' talks to protect Pakistani woman released from blasphemy death sentence

Canada is engaged in secret talks with allies over how to protect Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who spent eight years on death row for blasphemy. Liberal MP Andrew Leslie, the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, confirmed the multilateral discussions, but provided no details.

Conservatives press government to grant asylum to Asia Bibi, who spent 8 years on death row

Pakistani protesters shout slogans against Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who spent 8 years on death row for blasphemy. (Asif Hassan/AFP/Getty Images)

Canada is engaged in secret talks with allies over how to protect Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who spent eight years on death row for blasphemy.

Liberal MP Andrew Leslie, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of Foreign Affairs, confirmed the multilateral discussions during today's question period in the House of Commons, but provided no details.

"With like-minded friends and allies, there are discreet and delicate discussions underway and I will not say anything further at this time," he said.

Leslie, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Foreign Affairs Minister, addresses the notion of bringing Asia Bibi to Canada for her protection. 0:51

Earlier today, the Conservatives held a news conference to call on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to grant asylum to Bibi and her family.

Bibi, 47, was convicted of the charges in 2010 for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbours objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim. The case has divided Pakistan, with her conviction outraging Christians and her subsequent acquittal infuriating hardline Islamists.

She was acquitted Wednesday — prompting the ultra-right Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) party to block major roads in Pakistan's largest cities and call for the murder of the Supreme Court judges who acquitted her.

The protests were called off late Friday after the TLP struck a deal with the government that would see Bibi placed on an "exit control list" to prevent her from leaving the country. A review of the verdict is planned as well.

Ferry de Kerckhove, a former Canadian high commissioner to Pakistan, said the federal government must press the Pakistani government to let Bibi flee the country. If she isn't permitted to leave, he warned, "she's going to be murdered.

"There's absolutely no doubt about that. It's as simple as that — plead with the Pakistani government to allow her to find refuge elsewhere."

Today, Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel said Canada's humanitarian immigration system should prioritize helping the world's most vulnerable people.

"Andrew Scheer's Conservatives are calling on the Trudeau government to use every mechanism at their disposal to offer the Bibi family asylum, and to encourage the Pakistani government to allow Asia Bibi to travel freely in light of recent negotiations with the extremist TLP party which could see authorities bar her from leaving the country," she said.

Rempel said that while the Supreme Court decision in Pakistan to overturn the case was "heartening," Asia's life is still at risk as angry mobs have been protesting and calling for her death.

Not 'empty threats'

"We know that these are not empty threats as the Federal Minister for Minorities in Pakistan, Shahbaz Bhatti, was murdered in 2011 simply for calling for Bibi's release from prison," she said.

"If action is not immediately taken to ensure the safety of the Bibi family, I fear that their lives will also be in danger."

De Kerchove agreed, adding Canada should "absolutely" offer to give her refuge.

Bibi's husband, Ashiq Masih, has appealed to the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada for refuge and assistance.

Bibi's lawyer, Saif al-Mulook, recently fled to the Netherlands because he feared for his life.

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