Protests Rage in Pakistan Over Asia’s Acquittal in Blasphemy Case

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Pakistan protesters rally to condemn a Supreme Court decision that ordered the release of Asia Bibi. — AP

ISLAMABAD (IANS) — Radical Islamist groups continued to protest and block highways for the second consecutive day in Pakistan on Thursday, a day after the Supreme Court overturned the death sentence of Christian woman Asia Bibi, who had been convicted in 2010 of blasphemy.

In major cities such as Lahore, Karachi and the capital Islamabad, members of the radical Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) party continued to block highways, despite Prime Minister Imran Khan warning them to not confront the state.

Responding to the threats made to the judiciary by the religio-political parties over the acquittal, Chief Justice Saqib Nisar asked how the court could punish someone if the charges against them could not be proven, Dawn online reported.

“I and the bench (members) are all lovers of the Prophet (peace be upon him). We are ready to sacrifice ourselves for the Prophet’s honour. But we are not judges only for Muslims. If there is no proof against someone, how can we punish them?”

Around 250 protesters blocked the main entry to the capital on the highway connecting Islamabad with Rawalpindi, city police spokesperson Abdul Rehman told Efe news.

‘I and the bench (members) are all lovers of the Prophet. We are ready to sacrifice ourselves for the Prophet’s honour. But we are not judges only for Muslims. If there is no proof against someone, how can we punish them?’

He added that the protesters, who were burning tires, had also cut off a number of other roads and highways connecting the city to other parts of the country.

In Lahore, stick-wielding protesters chanting religious slogans outside the Punjab police chief’s office attacked policemen in riot gear who were attempting to disperse the agitators.

The demonstrators resisted the cops and some attacked the officials, after which the policemen resorted to baton-charging the protesters, reports say.

Around 600 people had gathered in front of the provincial Assembly of Punjab in Lahore since Thursday night and protests by smaller groups were going on in other parts of the city, police spokesperson Shafique Hussain said.

The railway network in Lahore suffered disruptions due to protests and suspension of mobile signals.

Educational institutions remained closed on Thursday in the provinces of Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Protests began on Wednesday immediately after the apex court judgment and leaders of the TLP — which supports the anti-blasphemy law and its implementation as part of its agenda — called for the death of the judges who passed the verdict.

Asia Bibi, a mother of five, was accused by two women of insulting Prophet Muhammad in 2009 and a court sentenced her to death in 2010.

Bibi maintained her innocence, but spent most of the past eight years in solitary confinement.

The Prime Minister defended the top court’s judgment in a televised address, saying it was in accordance with the Constitution and appealed to the protesters to not challenge the state.

Asia Bibi’s lawyer says she should leave Pakistan 

Meanwhile, the lawyer of Asia Bibi on Thursday said that his client should leave Pakistan for her safety amid widespread protests by radical Islamist groups, a day after her death sentence was annulled.

“She is not safe in Pakistan and she will have to leave the country,” Saif-ul-Malook told Efe news, adding that he might also have to leave the country to protect himself.

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