With Associated Press, agency reports
Radical Islamists on Thursday continued protests and rallies for a second day against the Pakistani Supreme Court verdict that freed a Christian woman who had been on death row for eight years after conviction for blasphemy.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Wednesday that overturned the 2010 conviction against Asia Bibi for insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. The charge of blasphemy carries the death penalty in this majority Muslim nation.
While many across the globe have continued to hail Bibi’s acquittal, more than 1,000 Islamists blocked a key road linking the capital, Islamabad with the garrison city of Rawalpindi on Thursday, demanding Bibi be publicly hanged. Authorities deployed paramilitary troops, signaling they could move in to clear the roads.
Hundreds also blocked another key motorway, linking Islamabad with major cities such as Lahore and Peshawar, chanting slogans against Bibi and demanding her execution.
Bibi remained at an undisclosed location Thursday where the 54-year-old mother of five was being held for security reasons, awaiting her formal release, her brother, James Masih told The Associated Press.
Masih said his sister simply would not be safe in Pakistan.
“She has no other option and she will leave the country soon,” he said. Masih would not disclose the country of her destination but both France and Spain have offered asylum.
Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih, had returned from Britain with their children in mid-October and was waiting for her to join them, the brother added.
Meanwhile, opposition lawmakers in parliament called Thursday for reforming the judicial system and Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law — so that innocents like Bibi wouldn’t spent years languishing in jail.
Hafiz Saeed, a radical cleric wanted by the United States, urged followers to hold rallies across Pakistan on Friday to condemn Bibi’s release. Saeed is the founder of the outlawed Lashkar-e-Taiba group, which was blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people.
Protesters, rallied by firebrand cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, also set up roadblocks and burned tires in the southern port city of Karachi while hundreds clashed Thursday with police in various parts of eastern Punjab province.
Many parents kept their children from school, fearing more violence.
The Islamists also called for the killing of the three judges, including Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, who acquitted Bibi.
The three are on the hit list of Rizvi’s Tehreek-e-Labbaik party, which has demanded a public execution for Bibi.
In his televised speech, Prime Minister Khan warned the Islamists: “Let me make it very clear to you that the state will fulfil its responsibility.”
Bibi’s lawyer, Saiful Malook, has gone into hiding as the extremists had threatened his life as well.
On Wednesday, cleric Afzal Qadri, with Rizvi by his side, urged a crowd of supporters outside the Punjab provincial parliament in the city of Lahore to revolt against army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa and overthrow Khan’s government.
Bibi, a mother of four, has been living on death row since 2010 when she became the first woman to be sentenced to death by hanging under Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws.
She was condemned for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbours objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim.
Bibi’s case stemmed from a simple act among poor farmhands in rural Pakistan. Bibi was asked to get water while harvesting fruit in a field. Muslim women working with Bibi complained when she dipped her cup into the water bucket, saying a non-Muslim was unclean.
The women quarreled, and her co-workers accused her of insulting the prophet three times. She was later beaten, and the women complained to a local religious leader who pressed for the blasphemy charge.
Blasphemy carries a death sentence under Pakistani law. The laws remain popular in Pakistan, and Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed support for them during the recent election campaign.
Commission chairman, Tenzin Dorjee said blasphemy laws protect entire religions rather than the rights of individuals, falling short of international human rights standards.
He said : “The case of Asia Bibi illustrates the extent to which blasphemy laws can be exploited to target minority communities.
“It is deeply troubling that Bibi’s case even reached this level, where she almost became the first person in Pakistan’s history to be executed for the crime of blashemy