Britain should grant asylum to a persecuted Pakistani Christian woman and not be put off by concerns it would lead to unrest or attacks on UK embassies, Boris Johnson has said.
The former Foreign Secretary said Asia Bibi had suffered “appalling treatment” because of her faith after she was wrongly sentenced to death for allegedly insulting the Prophet Mohammed.
The 53-year-old Catholic was acquitted by Pakistan’s supreme court last month, but remains in hiding and her release caused angry protests from hardline religious parties who want her hanged.
In a letter to Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, he said the mother-of-five had an “overwhelming claim for compassion from the British government”.
A UK campaign group supporting her claimed at the weekend that Britain had yet to offer asylum amid concerns it would prompt “unrest” and attacks on British embassies.
“I cannot believe for a minute that these are considerations which should be allowed to prevail,” Mr Johnson told Mr Javid.
He went on: “I am well aware, as a former Foreign Secretary, of the constant threat to our overseas missions, but we cannot allow the threat of violence to deter us from doing the right thing.”
Several countries are thought to have already offered sanctuary. However Mrs Bibi is unable to leave Pakistan until the supreme court has heard a petition requesting a review of her acquittal.
Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, said on Monday that his government was holding talks with Pakistan over potentially offering asylum to Mrs Bibi.
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"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 told AFP.
Mr Johnson said in the letter dated November 12: “I do not think it is a dignified position for the UK, given our historic links with Pakistan and the extent of our influence there, to look to others to do what we are allegedly nervous to do ourselves.”
Hardline religious parties have won little electoral support in Pakistan, but managed to paralyse the country for three days after Mrs Bibi’s acquittal.
A government deal to stop the disruption agreed to allow a petition challenging her acquittal. The petition is widely expected to fail.