Protests in Pakistan delay release of Christian woman

Protests in Pakistan delay release of Christian woman

Protests in Pakistan delay release of Christian woman

The men in the streets were angry not only with Asia Bibi, but with the Supreme Court Justices who ruled there was not enough evidence to convict her of insulting the prophet Muhammed, and Prime Minister Imran Khan who has called for peace.

Despite the decision, protesters are calling for Bibi to be punished - and Afzal Qadri, chief of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Party, said the high court judges are now liable to be put to death.

Bibi has been in prison since 2009, when a local cleric filed a complaint against her after a dispute between her and several Muslim women over her drinking from the same water cup.

The responding police officers promptly arrested Bibi and threw her in jail, and a year later she was convicted of blasphemy.

Blasphemy is an incendiary charge in deeply conservative Muslim Pakistan, where even unproven allegations of insulting Islam and its Prophet Mohammed can provoke a violent and bloody death at the hands of vigilantes.

Shortly after the ruling, hundreds of Islamists blocked a key road linking the city of Rawalpindi with Islamabad.

BBC News reporter Secunder Kermani, on the ground in Islamabad on Wednesday, wrote, "Asia Bibi's lawyer, closely flanked by a policeman, told me he was "happy" with the verdict, but also afraid for his and his client's safety". On October 31, the Pakistan Supreme Court acquitted her of the charge and she walked free after eight years.

Blasphemy carries an automatic death sentence in Pakistan, but the government has never actually executed anyone for the offense.

"They are inciting you for their own political gain, you should not get trapped by them for the sake of the country, they are doing no service to Islam", Khan said in a televised broadcast. In her biography, Blasphemy: A Memoir, Bibi explains the day "my life fell apart, one Sunday in June".

The landmark ruling has already set off protests by hardliners who support strong blasphemy laws.

She has also been a target for hardline Islamists in Pakistan, who have vowed to retaliate if she's released.

On Friday, some 5,000 Islamists rallied in the capital, Islamabad and almost 4,000 demonstrators staged a sit-in in Lahore, demanding that Bibi's acquittal verdict be overturned. "Asia Bibi acquitted of charges", said Justice Nisar.

Rizvi's envoys had demanded that Bibi be barred from leaving the country but Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry rejected the demand, saying the government will not accept any dictates.

A police spokesperson in Lahore said that around 500 protesters had gathered outside the provincial Assembly and blocked roads in the area.

Ms. Bibi remained at an undisclosed location on Thursday where she was being held for security reasons, awaiting her formal release, said her brother, James Masih.

Given the hostility and threats in response to today's verdict, it is likely that Bibi and her family will need to seek asylum in another country.

Bibi's case has drawn global attention and also put Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws into focus again. She was then beaten nearly unconscious with sticks before being thrown in jail, where she was sentenced 17 months later to death by hanging. The assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, was hanged for the crime, but later was hailed by religious hard-liners as a martyr, with millions visiting a shrine set up for him near Islamabad.

"They are threatening the government, the judiciary and the army but it seems the government and military are reluctant because they fear backlash", said analyst Fasi Zaka.

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