BREAKING NEWS: Pakistan Christian Woman Facing Execution Rescued; Family Moved To Sri Lanka (Update)

(ADDS CONFIRMATION RESCUE CHRISTIANS GROUP IN 3RD GRAPH) .

By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos

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Christian women are under pressure in Pakistan amid blasphemy allegations and abuse, rights groups say.


ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)-- A Christian woman who potentially faced the death penalty in Pakistan for blasphemy against Islam has been moved to Sri Lanka with her husband and daughter, an official told BosNewsLife, just hours after Canada admitted it had rescued another prosecuted, mentally challenged, Christian girl.

"Martha Bibi, 47, and her Christian husband Boota Masih have arrived in Sri Lanka with their daughter. Two other daughters and three sons, will come soon as well," said the official. "They will apply for refugee status with (UN refugee agency) UNHCR, as this is the procedure," he added. "After that they will go to Canada or the United States."

The source, who was actively involved in the rescue operation, spoke on condition of anonymity amid security concerns including possible attacks by Islamic militants.  In a seperate statement the independent 'Rescue Christians'  group, which has close contacts with prosecuted Christians in Pakistan, said it had provided aid to the family.

The "persecution" of Bibi and her husband, who are entrepreneurs, began after she asked those leasing their building equipment in January 2007 to pay an outstanding bill, according to Christians familiar with the case. Those supporting her case claim she was left empty-handed and "smeared as a blasphemer, terrorized, and ultimately arrested" after she got into a fierce argument with a shop-owner near the mosque.

Though she allegedly did not mention religion in the heated exchange, the woman she argued with told her husband, identified publicly as Mohammad Ramzan, that Bibi "blasphemed" Islam's prophet Mohammed.

'FURIOUS MOB'

"A large furious mob had assembled and marched toward our home. We requested our neighbor Muhammad Rashid Mughal to hide us in his home which they allowed," said her husband in published remarks.

"Accompanied and supported by police," he said, the mob reached their home where his parents decided to remain. "The fuming mob threatened my parents that our house would be gutted out if they had not handed us to them."

She was reportedly soon detained in Kot Nanak Sigh in Punjab province for allegedly making "derogatory remarks" about Prophet Mohammed in an argument with a Muslim woman.

Though her lawyer managed to get her released on bail of 100,000 Pakistani Rupee ($1,000) three months later, she remained concerned about her future.

Following six years of uncertainty she was to appear in front of a Lahore court where she potentially faced the death penalty under the nation's controversial blasphemy legislation, prompting Christian activist to arrange her trip to Sri Lanka.

FACING EXECUTION

If convicted, she would have been the second woman in Pakistan facing execution for blasphemy. Asia Bibi, who is not related, has been awaiting her appeal against the death penalty for several years behind bars.

News of Martha Bibi's rescue came just hours after BosNewsLife could confirm that Canada had given refuge to 14-year-old Rimsha Masih.

"She is in Canada now. She was earlier offered refuge in Norway," said Farrukh H. Saif, executive director of the Pakistan-based Christian aid and advocacy group World Vision In Progress (WVIP) in an interview with BosNewsLife. "She is accompanied by her parents, two sisters and one brother," Saif explained in an earlier interview with BosNewsLife.

"European Pakistani Christians arranged her asylum", he added.

BosNewsLife became aware of the trip to Canada last month but in agreement with Christians, for security reasons, awaited confirmation from Canada's Immigration Minister Jason Kenney or other officials.

DELICATE WORK

"I said absolutely, if they could get her out," Kenney said in published remarks. "So a number of people did some very dangerous, delicate work to extricate her and her family from Pakistan, and we provided the necessary visas," he said.

Rimsha Masih was jailed in August last year in a prison near the capital Islamabad after allegedly burning pages with verses of the Koran, viewed as holy book by Muslims.

Her detention at Adiala Jail sparked an international outcry because of her age and a medical report confirming that she suffers from mental disabilities. At least some Pakistani authorities allowed Masih to leave Pakistan, after a Muslim leader who accused the girl of burning pages of Koran verses, was himself detained on charges of blasphemy.

Imam Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chisht allegedly stashed Koranic papers in the girl‘s bag to ensure her conviction and push out Christians from the area, charges he strongly denied.

Pakistan has come under international pressure to change blasphemy legislation, which critics say has been misused to settle personal disputes and to persecute Christians. Some 52 people accused of blasphemy against Islam and their supporters have been murdered in the last two decades, according to rights groups.

(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since 2004). 

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