Islamists in Pakistan continue protests

Supporters of the hardline Pakistani group Tehreek-e-Labaik protesting on Wednesday against the Supreme Court decision to overturn the conviction of Ms Asia Bibi, a Christian, who was facing execution for blasphemy.
Supporters of the hardline Pakistani group Tehreek-e-Labaik protesting on Wednesday against the Supreme Court decision to overturn the conviction of Ms Asia Bibi, a Christian, who was facing execution for blasphemy.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Hardliners against acquittal of Christian on death row over blasphemy charge

KARACHI • Islamist protesters blocked roads in Pakistan's major cities for a second day yesterday, opposing a Supreme Court decision the previous day to acquit a Christian woman on death row for blasphemy charge, media said.

Knots of protesters from an ultra-Islamist party blocked about 10 key roads in the southern city of Karachi and others in eastern Lahore, Geo TV and other channels said. Private schools in both cites as well as in the capital Islamabad were shut.

Groups of about 200 protesters from the Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) party sat under large tents, listening to speeches on two blocked roads in Karachi, a witness said.

In one speech, a TLP speaker exhorted supporters to light new fires if the police managed to douse burning tyres and other objects they had already set ablaze.

The demonstrators were protesting against the court's decision to free Ms Asia Bibi, a mother of four, who had been on death row since 2010, as the first woman sentenced to death by hanging under Pakistan's tough blasphemy laws.

Ms Bibi was accused of making derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbours objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim.

But a three-judge panel set up to hear the appeal, headed by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, ruled the evidence was insufficient.

WARNING

We will not allow any damage. We will not allow traffic to be blocked... I appeal to you, do not push the state to the extent that it is forced to take action.

PRIME MINISTER IMRAN KHAN, warning the protesters that the government will act against any prolonged disturbance.

The case has divided Pakistan, where two politicians who sought to help Ms Bibi were assassinated, and outraged Christians worldwide, with Pope Francis saying he personally prayed for Ms Bibi.

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

"We will not allow any damage. We will not allow traffic to be blocked," Mr Khan said. "I appeal to you, do not push the state to the extent that it is forced to take action."

 
 

Mr Khan's broadcast followed comments by a senior leader of the Islamist TLP group, calling for Chief Justice Nisar and the other two judges to be killed. "They all three deserve to be killed," TLP co-founder Muhammad Afzal Qadri told a protest in Lahore.

He also called for the ouster of Mr Khan's new government and urged army officers to rise up against powerful military chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Influential Islamist Hafiz Saeed, who has been accused by the US of being the mastermind behind the attacks in Mumbai in 2008 that killed 166, has called for protests after afternoon prayers today.

The whereabouts of Ms Bibi and her family are unclear, and speculation is growing that she will leave Pakistan with her family, who have been in hiding for much of the past eight years.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2018, with the headline 'Islamists in Pakistan continue protests'. Print Edition | Subscribe