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France

Asia Bibi to take French invitation seriously

Catholic woman who escaped death sentence in Pakistan says cold weather in Canada limits her activities

Eglises d'Asie reporter, Paris

Eglises d'Asie reporter, Paris

Published: March 03, 2020 04:59 AM GMT

Updated: March 04, 2020 10:06 AM GMT

PARIS FOREIGN MISSIONS (MEP)
Asia Bibi to take French invitation seriously

Asia Bibi, the Catholic woman who spent nine years on death row convicted of blasphemy in Pakistan, was in France to promote her biographical book. (Photo: Eglises d'Asie)

Asia Bibi, the Catholic woman who spent nine years on death row convicted of blasphemy in Pakistan, has been invited by French President Emmanuel Macron to live in France.

In the following interview with French Catholic agency Eglises d’Asie (Churches in Asia), Bibi said she was grateful for the invitation. The cold weather in Canada, where she now lives, limits her activities and she would be happy to take the invitation seriously, she said.

Bibi met the president on Feb. 29 while in France to promote her book Enfin Libre! (Finally Free!), co-written with Anne-Isabelle Tollet, the French journalist who helped form an international committee to campaign for her freedom.

In the book, the 47-year-old woman narrates her ordeal that started in 2009, her death sentence in 2010 and her subsequent nine-year stay in jail. Released in November 2018, she was finally able to fly to Canada in May 2019 to meet her husband and family members.

She now lives in an undisclosed location in Canada with her family. She told French journalists that she was hopeful of returning to Pakistan one day. A devout Catholic, she said she had never committed blasphemy.

The former farmhand in Punjab province was sentenced to death in 2009 after he was accused of blasphemy following an argument with her co-workers over sharing water. Poor Christians in Pakistan often engage in menial occupations such as cleaning and sweeping. Some Muslims consider them dirty and do not drink water using the same container.

Bibi, whose full name is Aasia Noreen, was convicted of blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammad and a death sentence was handed down by a local court. It was upheld by Lahore High Court. Two Pakistani politicians, including influential Punjab governor Salman Taseer, were later killed for publicly supporting her and criticizing the country’s draconian blasphemy law.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan acquitted her of the charge on Oct. 31, 2018, sparking protests by Islamic group Tehreek-e-Labbaik and calls for the judges in the case to be killed. Several groups violently protested her release. On Jan. 29, 2019, the court rejected a petition pleading against the court's decision to acquit Bibi. In May that year, media reported that she had landed in Canada.

While in France, Bibi had a meeting on Feb. 26 with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, who proclaimed her an honorary citizen of France. "I have received the invitation from the president and the French republic, and I’m honored," she said.

The following are excerpts from her interview with Eglises d’Asie:

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You have just published a new book. What do you want to express in your book?

Asia Bibi: Today I feel good. By reading this book, people will discover how much I have suffered and what is life for those who are punished for crimes they did not commit.

You prayed a lot in the prison. What is the role of prayer in your life today?

Asia Bibi: I've been praying ever since I got my freedom, at least twice a day. But in the prison, since I was alone and there was no one with me, I spent a lot of time in prayer. I still pray and read the Bible even though I have the responsibilities of a mother in the house. Prayer is an essential part of my life.

How are you adjusting to your new life?

Asia Bibi: When I got out of prison and left Pakistan to come to Canada, I could finally enjoy the fresh air of freedom. But this new life was not suitable. In Canada I stayed in the house all the time because of the cold. I couldn't really start a new life there. I couldn't start anything else that would make a better life. We just stayed on.

What are your plans, how do you see the future?

Asia Bibi: My main goal is to get quality education for my children. I would also like to take up the causes of other people still in prison, especially those who are passing through what I went through. Now I have a lot of time to pray. I would also like to do something with journalists.

How was your meeting with Anne Hidalgo?

Asia Bibi: I was happy to meet the mayor and all those at the town hall of Paris, and also all the French people. I received a lot of love and I am happy to have been able to visit France. I am also really grateful to all those who welcomed us and helped us during our stay. I was very happy to be able to pray here and I felt many things. I thank from the bottom of my heart all those who helped us here.

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