Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi asks France for asylum

In this file photo taken on October 29, 2014, a portrait of Pakistan's Asia Bibi is displayed during a demonstration to protest against her death sentence, in Paris; she has sought political asylum from France

Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian woman who spent years on death row after a 2010 conviction of blasphemy, said Monday that she was seeking political asylum from the French government.

“My great desire is to live in France,” Bibi said in an interview with RTL radio, her first trip to France since fleeing with her family to Canada in 2018.

Her visit comes a few weeks after the publication of her book “Enfin Libre!” (Finally Free) in French last month, with an English version due in September.

“France is the country from where I received my new life… Anne-Isabelle is an angel for me,” she said, referring to the French journalist Anne-Isabelle Tollet, who waged a long campaign for her release and later co-wrote Bibi’s book.

On Tuesday, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is to bestow an honorary citizenship certificate granted to Bibi by the city in 2014, when she was still behind bars.

She said she did not have any meeting scheduled with President Emmanuel Macron, but “obviously I would like the president to hear my request.”

In her book, Bibi recounts the nightmare conditions she was subjected to in prison until her release in 2018, amid an international outcry over her treatment.

The acquittal sparked fierce rioting in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where Christians are often the target of persecution.

She later fled with her family to Canada, where she has been living in an undisclosed location under police protection.

“Obviously I am enormously grateful to Canada,” Bibi said, adding that she now wanted to work “hand in hand” with Tollet to urge Pakistan authorities to free others imprisoned over the country’s anti-blasphemy laws.

– ‘Exile forever’ –

The allegations against Bibi date back to 2009, when Muslim field labourers who were working alongside her refused to share water because she was Christian.

An argument broke out and a Muslim woman later went to a local cleric and accused Bibi of committing blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed.

But despite her dramatic acquittal by Pakistan’s chief justice, activists warned that freedom for Bibi would likely mean a life under threat by hardliners who have long called for her death.

Last May, she was spirited away to Canada, where Tollet was the only reporter to have met with Bibi since her arrival.

In her book, Bibi tells of the humiliating and horrendous conditions in prison, and the daily torments suffered by the country’s Christian minority.

She also recounts the difficulty of adjusting to her new life, and the pain of having to leave without seeing her father or other members of her family.

“Pakistan is my country. I love my country but I am in exile forever,” she wrote.

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