Radical Islamists in Pakistan have launched widespread protests against the Supreme Court for overturning Christian mother Asia Bibi’s 2010 death penalty verdict on “blasphemy” charges Wednesday.
The Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency quoted Bibi, a 47-year-old mother of five, as saying after the verdict, “I can’t believe what I am hearing, will I go out now? Will they let me out, really?”
Islamists from the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party, which rose to prominence during the recent elections in the country by campaigning on punishing blasphemy, had reportedly vowed to take to the streets, warning the court against any “concession or softness” for 47-year-old Bibi.
This month, National Review reported that Islamic hardliners stood prepared to act on their threats against the life of Bibi, a mother of five, and that of the justices who decided her fate.
“Within hours [of the landmark ruling], the protests were large enough that government officials in the cities were urging people to stay inside and avoid adding to the chaos. Demonstrators blocked a motorway in Lahore and a road linking Islamabad and Rawalpindi has been closed off,” CNN revealed on Wednesday.
The landmark ruling has already set off violent protests by hardliners who support strong blasphemy laws. Demonstrations against the verdict are being held in Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Multan. Clashes with police have been reported. The Red Zone in the capital Islamabad, where the Supreme Court is located, has been sealed off by police, and paramilitary forces have been deployed to keep protesters away from the court.
Pakistan has held Bibi in prison since 2009 on charges that she defamed Muhammad, an offense that carried a mandatory death penalty under Pakistani law. A Pakistani court sentenced Bibi to hang in 2010 for allegedly making “defamatory and sarcastic” comments about Mohammad after neighbors objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim. Bibi denies the allegations.
In 2014, the Lahore High Court upheld her conviction and death sentence. Pakistan’s Supreme Court admitted her appeal the following year.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court quoted Shakespeare’s “King Lear” in its ruling acquiting the Christian woman, saying Bibi appeared to have been “more sinned against than sinning,” CNN noted.
‘Even if there was some grain of truth in the allegations leveled in this case against the appellant still the glaring contradictions in the evidence of the prosecution highlighted above clearly show that the truth in this case had been mixed with a lot which was untrue,” the ruling reportedly added.
The prosecution had “categorically failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt,” the judges ultimately ruled, BBC reported.
BBC pointed out that the judges heavily referenced the Quran in the ruling, adding, “It ended with a quote from the Hadith, the collected sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, which calls for non-Muslims to be treated kindly.”
“Bibi remains in Adiala jail, in Rawalpindi, but will be freed as soon as jail officials receive the court order,” the Guardian acknowledged.
Some Muslims in Pakistan have used the nation’s blasphemy law to target Christians and other religious minorities across the country, where authorities have arrested dozens of people for allegedly insulting Islam.
Human rights groups have determined that Pakistanis have routinely abused the law to settle personal vendettas.
Depending on the nature of the offense, other punishments for blasphemy include a fine or a prison term.
Although Pakistan has sentenced offenders to death under the law, Pakistan has yet to execute anyone for committing blasphemy.