Asia Bibi, the illiterate Catholic woman who spent almost a decade on death-row over blasphemy allegations in Pakistan, has finally been allowed to leave for Canada, where she will be reunited with her family.
The information was first shared by the UK’s The Daily Mail, and then confirmed by Paloma Garcia Ovejero the London correspondent for Cope, the Spanish bishops’ radio network.
Church officials in Pakistan told Crux they couldn’t verify the news.
Bibi was acquitted in October after a years-long court battle.
She headed to Canada late on Tuesday, and was scheduled to arrive on Wednesday, where she will join their daughters, who’ve been granted asylum by the Ottawa government.
The 53-year old woman had been jailed in June 2009 after an argument with a group of Muslim women after she drank water from a local well. The women claimed she blasphemed Mohammed, which Bibi has always denied.
The country’s Supreme Court absolved Bibi, dismissing the case against her as “nothing short of concoction incarnate.”
She was secretly released from prison in November amidst riots in Pakistan’s largest cities, with extremists protesting a Supreme Court decision acquitting her of blasphemy, a criminal offense that carries the death penalty in the South Asian country.
She had been in hiding since her release, with countries such as Italy saying they were open to granting her asylum.
Radical Islamists demanded Bibi’s death as well as the death of the three Supreme Court judges who acquitted her.
According to one national survey from November, at least ten million Pakistanis said they would be willing to kill Bibi with their bare hands, either out of religious conviction, for the money, or both. A Pakistani mullah offered a reward of roughly $10,000 to anyone who killed her, either inside or outside prison.
Last year, the demonstrations dispersed after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government promised a court would review a motion to challenge the acquittal and denied Bibi permission to leave Pakistan.
In January, the court upheld her acquittal, removing the final obstacle to her leaving Pakistan.
Speaking to reporters in Islamabad, Khan had anticipated in mid-April that Bibi was soon to be allowed to leave Pakistan, together with her husband, Ashiq Masih, who’d been hiding with her since her acquittal.
According to a source quoted in The Daily Mail in March, Bibi was “very unwell” and being denied medical care while holed up in a safe house with “low blood pressure.”
Her departure from Pakistan coincides with the beginning of Ramadan, considered by Muslims as a a time for peace and reconciliation.