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Reader’s comment: Thornberry comes up trumps on Bibi

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In response to Dr Campbell Campbell-Jack: Is the Foreign Office any better than the Pakistani mob?,

Major Tom wrote:

Emily Thornberry, Facebook 16/11/2018

Dear Friends,

With all the media focus on Brexit and the chaos inside the government right now, it’s easy to forget about other issues, but many of you have been in touch with me raising your concerns about the Christian farmworker, Asia Bibi, whose life has been threatened in Pakistan over the past two weeks since she was acquitted of a charge of blasphemy.

And as I’ve read your messages and watched the mobs in Pakistan over the last fortnight calling for that mother of five to be hanged, I found myself wondering what Muhammad Jinnah, the country’s founding father, would have thought.

Back in 1947, three days before Earl Mountbatten – the last Viceroy of India – formally handed over power to Pakistan’s National Constituent Assembly, Jinnah told the same body: “You are free.”

“Free”, he said, “to go to your temples, to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion. There is no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one and another.”

It was Jinnah’s vision of a tolerant and equal society that persuaded the Punjab Legislative Assembly to vote narrowly that same year for the inclusion of the whole of the province in the newly-created state of Pakistan rather than subjecting Punjab to partition.

The result was 91 for, 88 against, and the crucial deciding votes were cast by the only three Christian members of the Assembly, who preferred Jinnah’s vision over the religious extremism prevalent in India at the time.

How appalled and ashamed they would be that, 71 years on, it is a Punjabi woman – Asia Bibi – who lives in fear of her life for no other crime than her Christian faith, and the accusation that she committed blasphemy against Islam.

After eight years on death row, her acquittal at the end of October should not just have been the end of a terrible and unjust ordeal, but also a turning point for Pakistan back to the tolerance preached by Jinnah, rather than the extremism indulged by many of his successors.

But instead, anarchy has ensued, with Asia, her family, her lawyers and even the judges who freed her all at threat from riotous lynch mobs.

My Shadow Foreign Office colleague, Liz McInnes, immediately wrote to the government asking if Britain would extend asylum to Asia and her family. We were told that the question was irrelevant since no such request had been received, so Liz wrote back again asking for an assurance that Britain would welcome such a request.

We got no answer, and this week, we found out the disgraceful reasons why. It was revealed that the Foreign Office had warned their Home Office counterparts not to offer asylum to Asia for fear that the mobs in Pakistan would threaten our British consulates in the country as well.

The idea that we would leave a defenceless mother to the mercy of the mob for fear they will turn on us as well is an act of shameful cowardice for a great and proud country like ours. Worse still, it sends an extraordinarily dangerous message to others who might prefer we did not interfere in their domestic human rights abuses: summon the mob and Britain will back off.

At Prime Minister’s Questions this week, Diane Abbott and I heckled Theresa May, demanding again an assurance that if Asia and her family do seek asylum in Britain, they will be welcome.

And again, we got no answer, which for me is a blatant dereliction of our country’s moral and historical duty to individuals like Asia, whom the partition of India left so vulnerable.

For that reason, I found myself not just wondering what Muhammad Jinnah would think of the mobs threatening Asia Bibi, but what Earl Mountbatten would think of Britain’s shameful failure to come to her aid.

As ever, please let me have your thoughts,

Emily

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