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Government fears violence if Asia Bibi is granted UK asylum
The UK government fears its staff in Pakistan could face violent reprisals if Asia Bibi, a Christian mother-of-five acquitted of blasphemy in the country, was granted asylum in Britain.
The permanent secretary of the Foreign Office told MPs on Tuesday evening that desires to protect victims of religious persecution had to be weighed up against risks facing British personnel.
Speaking to the Foreign Affairs Committee, Sir Simon McDonald said: "I am advising that we can be consistent with our fundamental policy aims, whilst at the same time protecting the security of our staff."
The diplomat added that the UK is willing to work with other countries to ensure Ms Bibi reaches a "safe harbour".
But the Conservative MP, Tom Tugendhat who serves as chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee warned failure to offer sanctuary risked allowing UK foreign policy to be dictated by "the mob".
He asked Sir McDonald whether the episode "does not raise the question that either staff should be withdrawn or security or otherwise UK policy is effectively dictated to by a mob?"
Prior to her acquittal at the Supreme Court in Pakistan last month, Ms Bibi had been on death row for eight years after being convicted of insulting Islam's prophet Mohammad.
Under an agreement struck between the country's government and hard-line Islamist, she is being prevented from leaving the country, pending a review of the judges' decision.
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