ISLAMABAD   -  Aasia Bibi, a Pakistani woman who was acquitted in a blasphemy case by the Supreme Court last year, has reached Canada, her lawyer said yesterday.

Aasia, 53, flew out of Pakistan after being held for months in protective custody by Pakistani authorities following her acquittal, lawyer Saiful Malook said.

She has been reunited with her husband and two daughters, Malook said. “Aasia will live in Canada as she has been granted asylum by them,” he added. Pakistani authorities also confirmed the development.

Blasphemy is a sensitive subject in Pakistan, where strict laws prescribe a mandatory death penalty for the crime. Blasphemy allegations have led to murders and mob lynchings, with at least 74 people killed since 1990.

Among those killed were Salman Taseer, then Punjab governor, and Shahbaz Bhatti, then a federal minister, in 2010. Both of them had stood up for Bibi when she was first accused of blasphemy.

After the Supreme Court’s verdict to acquit Aasia Bibi, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had assured his Canadian counterpart Chrystia Freeland that the rights of the Christian woman would be protected.Earlier,

 Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had said that his government was in talks with Pakistan to offer asylum to Aasia Bibi. He said there was a “delicate domestic context” but “we are in discussions with the Pakistani government (for Aasia Bibi’s asylum).”

Aashiq Masih, Aasia Bibi’s husband had appealed in particular to Canada, Britain and the United States, claiming that Bibi’s life would be in danger as long as she lived in Pakistan.

Last year, Netherlands had temporarily shut its visa, passport and consular services in Islamabad amid security threats. The Netherlands embassy was under threat after the country offered shelter to Christian women Aasia Bibi.

The European state has already provided asylum to Aasia Bibi’s lawyer, Saiful Mulook, who fled Pakistan citing death threats after Bibi was acquitted.

The temporary shutting of the visa service came days after it was reported that the life of Netherlands ambassador Ardi Stoios-Braken was at risk amid the worsening law and order situation in the country, especially due to the agitation movement launched by the Tehrik-e-Labbaik Pakistan after the Supreme Court acquitted Aasia Bibi.

The interior ministry had warned that some extremists were planning to attack the Dutch envoy in a bid “to seek revenge for uploading of blasphemous caricatures by Greet Wilders, Dutch parliamentarian, on his personal Twitter account.”

Aasia Bibi was acquitted by the Supreme Court on October 31 prompting protests across the country. She was released from Multan Jail on November 7 and was moved to an unknown location for the security concerns. However, there was widespread misinformation that she was freed and ‘would depart the country on a chartered plane to the Netherland.’

Prime Minister Imran Khan had fully backed the Supreme Court’s decision in the Aasia Bibi case and warned protesters against clashing with the state.

Later, however, the government signed an agreement with the Tehrik-e-Labbaik Pakistan protesters but pledged to take steps to stop Bibi from travelling abroad. Earlier, the United Kingdom refused asylum to Aasia Bibi fearing it would prompt “unrest” in the UK and attacks on embassies.

Bibi spent eight years on death row after her arrest in the central village of Ithan Wali after an argument with two Muslim women. The women and a local cleric accused Bibi of blasphemy during the altercation, a charge that she consistently denied.

In its judgment, the Supreme Court noted in October that there were “glaring and stark” contradictions in the prosecution’s case against Bibi.

“(There is) the irresistible and unfortunate impression that all those concerned in the case with providing evidence and conducting investigation had taken upon themselves not to speak the truth of at least not to divulge the whole truth,” wrote Justice Asif Khosa, now Pakistan’s Supreme Court Chief Justice, in the verdict.

Bibi had been convicted and sentenced to death by a trial court in November 2010, with the Lahore High Court upholding her conviction on appeal four years later. Rights groups had long insisted there were numerous fair trial concerns in her case, as well as in blasphemy prosecutions generally.

According to Western news wires, no details have been revealed on Bibi’s immediate whereabouts in Canada or where the family might establish a new home. But the months since her acquittal should have provided the Canadian authorities time to work out a plan, which may involve a new identity.

Bibi and her family are expected be kept under the close watch of Canadian security agencies. The Catholic church, which has a strong presence in Canada, will be keen to offer Bibi a warm welcome.