Protests rage in Pakistan after woman acquitted of blasphemy

Protests rage in Pakistan after woman acquitted of blasphemy

Protests rage in Pakistan after woman acquitted of blasphemy

The lawyer representing the Muslim cleric who had filed the initial blasphemy charges against Asia Bibi petitioned Pakistan's Supreme Court, requesting the judges review her acquittal.

Upon their release, several arranged to leave Pakistan immediately.

Asia Bibi was acquitted of making "derogatory remarks" about the Muslim prophet Muhammad after the judges ruled the evidence against appeared fabricated. The decision was met with heightened anger and annoyance by religious groups, who staged protests in several cities of Pakistan.

Hospitals also suffered from staff shortages.

Even in a country which generally tolerates a great deal of hate speech by the religious right, the calls against the army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, seemed to stun many in Pakistan.

In a televised national broadcast late on Wednesday, Prime Minister Imran Khan warned the protesters that the government would act against any prolonged blockade.

One protestor said: "We are ready to sacrifice our lives for this noble cause and have rejected whatever rubbish the prime minister said in his speech".

Protesters during a rally to condemn the Supreme Court decision that acquitted Asia Bibi
Protesters during a rally to condemn the Supreme Court decision that acquitted Asia Bibi

Tensions were raised further on Friday night when a senior cleric known as the father of the Taliban for his role teaching many militant leaders was stabbed to death in his own home. "Workers have been asked to disperse peacefully", Pir Ijaz Qadri, spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan party (TLP) - which has largely led the demonstrations - told AFP after a press conference. No violence was reported during the rallies. It is feared the release of Bibi - who is still being held at an undisclosed location - might be delayed by the process.

Bibi's husband Ashiq Masih has reached Pakistan along with his family from the United Kingdom to shift her overseas, The News reported quoting sources. Asia, 47, a Roman Catholic and a mother of four, has been offered asylum by France and Spain.

"What is the punishment for insulting the prophet?" the men chanted in central Islamabad. Attendance at offices and other commercial enterprises also remained thin. Some hospitals were on high alert and security forces shut down cellular networks to prevent militants from coordinating attacks.

Aasia Bibi's case has received much publicity both in Pakistan and internationally. The two Muslim women who pressed charges denied they quarrelled with her, saying her outbursts against Islam were unprovoked.

According to the priest, most Pakistanis will be happy with the verdict in favour of "this poor lady" who, despite being innocent had to spend about 10 years in prison in solitary confinement. A previous appeal hearing was adjourned in 2016 on a legal technicality.

The case against Bibi stems from a fight over a cup of water on a hot day. Pope Benedict XVI called for her release. Her family has been in hiding this week.

Pakistan's blasphemy laws date back to the military dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq. The Christian Post notes that the law is frequently abused to target religious minorities. Since 1990, dozens of people accused of blasphemy have been murdered. A third brother, who also faced blasphemy accusations, now lives in Malaysia but hopes to move to Canada.

Related news