Labour calls for asylum in Ireland for Asia Bibi

Labour calls for asylum in Ireland for Asia Bibi Labour Party Leader, Brendan Howlin

Labour party leader Brendan Howlin has called on the Government to grant asylum to the Christian woman freed in Pakistan after eight years in solitary confinement accused of blasphemy.

The Supreme Court in Pakistan announced on October 31 that Asia Bibi – who had been facing the death penalty – would be freed. However, she remains in jail as violent protests by Islamists have led to fears for her safety. The 49-year-old farmworker had been accused by Muslim colleagues of blasphemy in what has widely being interpreted as trumped up charges.

Speaking on Morning Ireland Mr Howlin appealed to Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan to show compassion and offer the Bibi family asylum in Ireland. “There is no prospect of Asia or her family being able to live in Pakistan now.

“If we are a country that is advocating human rights, that wants to ensure freedom of religion – and there are Christians being at least discriminated against and often persecuted in a number of countries – we should go beyond the rhetoric of that”.

On the wider issue of Christian persecution, Mr Howlin pointed out that Ireland is “currently as a country campaigning for a seat at the United Nations Security Council and one of our selling points is that we will be strong advocates for human rights. We need to deal with the issues of religious persecution across the globe which is rising.

“Something that is probably less talked about, the persecution of Christians in a number of countries where they simply can’t practise their own religion and we need to be strong advocates for that,” he said.

The Department of Justice said that any request for international protection from Mrs Bibi and her husband and five children would be given consideration.

However, Mr Howlin said that “the notion that Asia can actually reach out to Ireland is a very difficult thing for her to do and I think we should do the reaching out.

“I don’t think it’s a huge burden to do this and I think it would be a strong moral signal to reach out to – in this case a Christian woman and her family who have done nothing more than seek to protect her own religions values.

“If we do argue for freedom of religion, freedom from hate, we need to be positive in our actions as well as our rhetoric.

“She needs to be given a safe place to live. She’s already endured incredible hardship and I think it would be a good and moral thing for Ireland to do,” Mr Howlin said.