The fanatic mobs of Pakistan are a threat to democracy and the rule of law

— Nasir Khan, November 1, 2018
 
It may come as to jolting shock to many civilized human beings in the world that hundreds of thousands of Muslims of Pakistan are protesting, not against something awful that happened, but because an innocent Christian women, Aasia Bibi, who had falsely been accused of blasphemy was acquitted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan on her appeal.
 
The judges of the Supreme Court found that she had been falsely charged by some Muslim co-workers on some very trivial dispute; the trial judge had sentenced her to death on the basis of false accounts of the witnesses of the true nature of the petty dispute. Aasia Bibi, a married working-class woman, had languished in prison for the last eight years in solitary confinement.
 
Now, so many Pakistani Muslims are protesting and threatening to bring the country to a standstill for the acquittal of Aasia Bibi!
 
It is difficult to believe this, but that is exactly what these people are doing, and they think they are doing it to ‘defend and exalt the honour of Prophet Muhammad’.
 
The events in Pakistan show how the Islamic clerics, with the support of the Pakistani ruling elite over the years, had a free hand to spread the poison of religious fanaticism among the ordinary people and turn them into extremists, who, apparently have become indifferent to the distinction between right and wrong because of their religious indoctrination.
 
 

Pakistan: Thousands protest blasphemy acquittal, ignore PM’s call

Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan-led protests take place across the country, a day after Supreme Court clears Aasia Bibi.

by

Most schools and many businesses remained closed in three major Pakistani cities on Thursday [Akhtar Soomro/Reuters]
Most schools and many businesses remained closed in three major Pakistani cities on Thursday [Akhtar Soomro/Reuters]

Islamabad, Pakistan – Thousands of far-right religious demonstrators continue to block major roads across Pakistan in protest against the acquittal of a Christian woman in a high-profile blasphemy case.

The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) political party, led by firebrand Muslim leader Khadim Rizvi, organised rallies in cities across the South Asian country on Thursday, despite a warning from Prime Minister Imran Khan not to “force the government to have to take action”.

Aasia Bibi, 53, who was on death row for eight years, was acquitted by the country’s top court on Wednesday, with judges saying the prosecution contained “glaring and stark” contradictions.

Shortly after the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling was pronounced, Rizvi led a major protest outside government buildings in the eastern city of Lahore, with fellow TLP leaders declaring the three judges who acquitted Bibi to be “liable to be killed”.

The sit-in protest in Lahore remained the largest TLP demonstration on Thursday, with other major demonstrations being held in the southern city of Karachi, Pakistan’s largest. Protesters are also blockading a major highway into the capital, Islamabad.

Most schools and many businesses remained closed in all three cities through the day, with hospitals on high alert in case the protests turned violent. Highways were partially shut down and the federal cabinet held an emergency meeting to discuss the law and order situation.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, in a televised address to the nation, accused the TLP of attempting to stir religious sentiments for political gains.

“I say to these people: do not confront this state … do not damage this country for your vote bank,” said Khan.

“If you do this, I promise that the government will do its duty … I ask you: do not force the government to have to take action,” he added.

On Thursday, Shehryar Afridi, Pakistan’s minister of state for interior affairs, told parliament that talks were under way with protesters to end the standoff.

‘Watershed moment’

Blasphemy against Islam and its prophet is a sensitive subject in Pakistan, where the crime can carry a compulsory death sentence.

Increasingly, blasphemy accusations have resulted in mob lynchings and extrajudicial murders.

At least 74 people have been killed in violence related to blasphemy allegations since 1990, according to an Al Jazeera tally.

PM Imran Khan urged calm since Bibi’s acquittal but his call has fallen on deaf ears so far [Saudi Press Agency via AP]

There are still roughly 40 people on death row or serving life sentences for blasphemy, in Pakistan, according to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Bibi’s case had become emblematic of fair-trial concerns in cases related to the country’s blasphemy laws, with two senior political leaders who stood up for her gunned down in 2009 for supporting her.

Rights groups have hailed her acquittal as a watershed moment.

“Justice has finally prevailed. The message must go out that the blasphemy laws will no longer be used to persecute the country’s most vulnerable minorities,” said Omar Waraich, deputy director for South Asia at human rights group Amnesty International.

Tense calm 

At the protest at Islamabad’s Faizabad interchange, roughly 2,000 TLP supporters had gathered to block a major road into the federal capital.

TLP volunteers had visibly beefed up security at the demonstration’s entry and exit points. They barred entry to journalists, saying they would only be allowed to pass after surrendering cameras and other equipment.

Among the protesters, a tense calm prevailed, with many young men interspersed among the crowd carrying sticks and metal rods.

Many sat on reed mats, listening to devotional poems and sermons extolling the virtues of loving Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. The TLP mainly represents the Barelvi sect of Sunni Islam, which places a particular importance on the veneration of the personage and honour of the Prophet.

Overhead, two military helicopters flew low over the crowd, prompting shouts from many protesters. Two young men manning a barricade angrily shook their sticks at the aircraft.

Further protests are expected on Friday following midday prayers, with other right-wing religious groups joining the TLP in its rejection of the verdict.

Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim

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