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With asylum waiting, what’s keeping Aasia?

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PAKISTAN’S Foreign Office on Tuesday said Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland had telephoned her Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Monday and enquired about Asia Noreen, who was recently acquitted by the Pakistani Supreme Court in a blasphemy case against her.

A day earlier, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that his government was holding talks with Pakistan over potentially offering asylum to Aasia. Her husband Ashiq has appealed for help to Britain, Canada, Italy and the United States.

Trudeau said in an interview with AFP in Paris “…I will remind people Canada is a welcoming country.” He was in Paris to attend a peace conference organised by French President Emmanuel Macron.

Asia Noreen, who spent eight years on death row before being released, is still in protective custody, ostensibly because her life is in danger from Islamic extremists who disagree with the acquittal. Protests erupted in several cities after the Supreme Court acquitted Aasia on October 31, 2018.

A lady from the Christian locality of Youhanabad feared she was deliberately being held back by detractors among her “custodians” to make sure she doesn’t leave before a petition against her acquittal is decided. The Punjab province governor Salmaan Taseer, who spoke out for her and against the Blasphemy Law, was gunned down by the very police guard detailed to protect him. She said cynically “Andar se sab millay huay hain” which in English means “They’re all in cahoots against her actually”.

Almost every other Pakistani is aware of the Aasia Case and many of those who were interviewed randomly wondered what was keeping Aasia’s “protective custodians” from letting her go despite the fact that Canada among other countries with free societies, were ready to welcome her.

Enraged Islamic fanatics blocked several routes across Pakistan for three days, while at some places they had also set fire to vehicles and smashed cars full of occupants. The demonstrations saw closure of schools, colleges and universities, as well as cancellation of examinations.

The government and protesters from different religious groups led by Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), reached an agreement two days later on Friday, November 2, signed by Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri and Punjab Law Minister Raja Basharat from the government’s side and Pir Mohammad Afzal Qadri and Mohammad Waheed Noor from the TLP. The agreement said the government would not object to a review petition over Aasia’s acquittal.

Meanwhile, Aasia’s lawyer Saiful Mulook fled to The Netherlands last week citing threats to his life.

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