Pakistani clerics who opposed Asia Bibi's blasphemy acquittal get bail

Leader of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik party, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, addresses followers at a protest sit-in in Islamabad on November 27, 2017 – (AFP / FILE)
Updated 15 May 2019

Pakistani clerics who opposed Asia Bibi's blasphemy acquittal get bail

  • Tehreek-e-Labbaik party has shut down major cities, destroyed property, threatened top government, military and court figures
  • Party leaders Khadim Rizvi and Pir Afzal Qadri were arrested last year and accused of ‘terrorism and sedition’

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani authorities on Tuesday released on bail two ultra-right religious party leaders whose followers have shut down major cities demanding stricter application of stringent laws on blasphemy against Islam.
In November last year, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the leader of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) party, and Pir Afzal Qadri, a co-founder, led nationwide protests and threatened Supreme Court judges over the acquittal and release of a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who had spent eight years on death row on a blasphemy conviction.
Qadri, who is one of the TLP’s co-founders, had even called for the killing of the Supreme Court judges who acquitted Asia Bibi, as well as the overthrow of the government and the powerful army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa. On May 1 this year, Qadri resigned from the TLP citing health issues and issued a public apology for his remarks.
Local media reported that a two-member bench comprising Justice Qasim Ali Khan and Justice Asjad Javed Gharal had granted bail to Rizvi and Qadri till July 15 against surety bonds of Rs5 million each.
Pakistani Information Minister at the time, Fawad Chaudhry, had said last year that Rizvi and three others had been “charged under sections of sedition and terrorism.”
“Today we have decided to take legal action against the TLP leadership,” Chaudhry told a press conference on December 1. “All those who were directly involved in destroying property, who misbehaved with women, who set fire to buses, are being charged under laws of terrorism at different police stations.”
Chaudhry said more than 3,000 TLP members were taken into protective custody in the wake of the protests last year.
The move represented a hardening of the authorities’ stance toward the TLP, which in late 2017 paralyzed the capital Islamabad for several weeks and clashed with the police in deadly protests.
In 2017 and last year, TLP members called off protests only after negotiating with the military and reaching a deal with the government, which made many concessions to appease the group.
The TLP’s main focus is protecting Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws. It was founded out of a movement supporting a bodyguard who assassinated Punjab provincial governor Salman Taseer for advocating for Asia Bibi in 2011.
Blasphemy is a deeply emotive issue in Pakistan and officials have been unnerved by how much support Rizvi’s TLP has garnered across the country in the two years since the group entered mainstream politics.
Last week, Bibi’s lawyer told Arab News she had finally left Pakistan for Canada.

British Airways to resume Pakistan flights next week after a decade

Updated 23 May 2019

British Airways to resume Pakistan flights next week after a decade

  • BA halted service to Pakistan in the wake of the 2008 Marriott Hotel bombing in Islamabad
  • BA will begin the London Heathrow-Islamabad service with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner

ISLAMABAD: British Airways will resume flights to Pakistan next week a decade after it suspended operations following a major hotel bombing, becoming the first Western airline to restart flights to the South Asian country.

BA halted service to Pakistan in the wake of the 2008 Marriott Hotel bombing in the capital Islamabad that took place during a period of devastating Islamist militant violence in Pakistan.

Security has since improved, with militant attacks sharply down in the mainly Muslim country of 208 million people, reviving Pakistan as a destination for tourist and investors.

“The final touches are coming together for the airline’s return ahead of the first flight on Sunday June 2,” British Airways said in a statement. It will launch a three-per-week service to London Heathrow, it said.

“We’re on board,” Pakistani Civil Aviation spokeswoman Farah Hussain said about the flights resumption.

BA, which is owned by Spanish-registered IAG, will begin the London Heathrow-Islamabad service with the airline’s newest long-haul aircraft, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

At present, only loss-making national carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flies directly from Pakistan to Britain, but its ageing fleet of planes is a frequent source of complaints by passengers.

Middle Eastern carriers Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways and Emirates have a strong presence in Pakistan and have been eating into PIA’s dwindling market share. Turkish Airlines also lays on a regular service to Pakistan.

Islamabad has been running international advertising campaigns to rejuvenate its tourism sector, which was wiped out by Islamist violence that destabilised the country following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States and the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.

“We hope customers in both the UK and Pakistan will enjoy the classically British service we offer, with thoughtful bespoke touches,” Andrew Brem, Chief Commercial Officer at British Airways, said in BA’s statement.

BA said there will be a halal meal option in every cabin and the airline would also ensure sauces in every meal do not contain alcohol or pork.