OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday talks are underway with the Pakistani government over a Pakistani Christian woman whose acquittal on blasphemy charges against Islam last month sparked mass protests in the South Asian country.
Asia Bibi, who spent eight years on death row in Pakistan before being released, is in protective custody because her life is in danger from those who disagree with the acquittal. Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih, has appealed for help to Britain, Canada, Italy and the United States. (https://reut.rs/2qyeBXk)
“We are in discussions with the Pakistani government,” Trudeau said in an interview with Agence France Presse in Paris, where he attended a ceremony marking the end of World War One. His comments were confirmed by a spokesman in Ottawa.
“There is a delicate domestic context that we respect which is why I don’t want to say any more about that, but I will remind people Canada is a welcoming country,” he added.
While AFP said the discussions were about potentially offering Bibi and her family asylum, this was not confirmed by the spokesman in Ottawa.
Islamists have threatened to escalate protests in Pakistan if Bibi is permitted to leave the country. The government has indicated it will bar her from travelling abroad.
Last week, Canada urged Pakistan to ensure Bibi’s well-being and Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said the government was “extremely engaged in this issue”.
Bibi was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 after neighbours said she made derogatory remarks about Islam when they objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim. She is a Protestant and denies committing blasphemy.
Islamists shut down roads in major cities in Pakistan during three days of demonstrations against Bibi’s acquittal at the end of last month.
Bibi’s lawyer, Saiful Mulook, fled to the Netherlands earlier this week because of fears for the safety of his family.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Tom Brown)