Christian woman’s acquittal sparks protests in Pakistan

Supporters of a Pakistani religious group block main road after a court decision acquitting a Christian woman charged with blasphemy. (AP)
Updated 31 October 2018

Christian woman’s acquittal sparks protests in Pakistan

  • The leader of the Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) party also called for the ouster of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government
  • The party has launched street protests blocking roads in major cities to condemn the ruling

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s major cities witnessed massive protests on Wednesday following the Supreme Court’s judgment to overturn the death sentence for a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who had been imprisoned for eight years on blasphemy charges.

The protesters took to the streets on the call of the far-right party, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), in cities including Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi to protest against the apex court’s verdict.

Khadim Hussain Rizvi, a hard-line cleric and chief of the TLP party, urged thousands of followers to block the main arteries of the cities to register a “peaceful protest.” Traffic was also disrupted in the major cities due to the protests.

The provincial governments of Punjab and Sindh provinces have banned the gathering of more than four persons in their territories to deal with any law and order issues.

The Sindh government has also established a central control room to “monitor the prevailing law and order situation” and “maintain liaison and communication with all the controls rooms of respective police, law enforcement agencies, commissioners and deputy commissioners.”

Defying the ban, the protesters gathered in the major cities and chanted slogans against the government. However, no clashes of protesters with the security forces or any other incident was reported.

Heavy contingents of police and Rangers — a paramilitary force — were also deployed in Islamabad and other major cities to protect important installations and deal with any incident.

TLP General-Secretary Allama Waheed Noor told Arab News that protesters have taken to the streets to paralyze life in all major cities until the Supreme Court reverses its verdict.

Speaking in Parliament, Pakistan Peoples Party’s chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari urged all national institutions to stand with the Supreme Court of Pakistan in its decision to acquit Asia Bibi.

“The Supreme Court is our national institution. All other institutions, including the National Assembly, should stand with the Supreme Court,” he said. “We cannot run the country from the streets. We can only run this country according to the constitution and law.”

Speaking on the floor of the National Assembly shortly after the announcement of the verdict, Maulana Asad Mehmood said: “The people of Pakistan have rejected the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Asia Bibi case.”

The high court announced the verdict on a 2014 appeal filed by Bibi challenging the LHC’s decision. Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, while reading out the judgment, ordered Bibi’s immediate release if she was not wanted in any other case.

“The judgment of the high court and that of the trial court is reversed. Her conviction is set aside and she is to be relieved forthwith if not required on other charges,” the ruling said.

The 56-page verdict, authored by Nisar, said that the prosecution had categorically failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.

“It is a well-settled principle of law that one who makes an assertion has to prove it. Thus, the onus rests on the prosecution to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt throughout the trial,” the judgment said.

A special three-member bench — comprising Nisar, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel — reserved its verdict on Oct. 8 after hearing the final appeal against Bibi’s execution.

The appeal had challenged the Lahore High Court’s October 2014 verdict, which upheld a trial court’s decision in November 2010 sentencing Bibi to death for committing blasphemy.

Bibi was accused of making “defamatory and sarcastic” comments about the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in 2009 during an argument with three Muslim women while working in a field in Sheikhupura.

Bibi’s case outraged Christians worldwide and has been a source of division within Pakistan. The incident gained international spotlight after the-then Punjab governor Salman Taseer intervened and called for an amendment in blasphemy laws.

The governor was later killed in broad daylight in Islamabad by one of his own bodyguards. His assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, was executed in 2016 after the apex court found him guilty of murder and his appeal for clemency was rejected by the president.

Pakistan’s blasphemy law (295-C) carries the mandatory death penalty and activists claim that it is often used to target non-Muslim minorities in the country.

Institutions review links with Britain’s Prince Andrew

Updated 19 November 2019

Institutions review links with Britain’s Prince Andrew

  • The review comes after the BBC broadcast a lengthy interview with the prince on Saturday in which he tried to explain his links to Epstein
  • The unprecedented subject matter tackled in the television interview — and the royal’s apparent lack of empathy for victims — has dominated British media in recent days

LONDON: A British university on Tuesday said it was reviewing its links with Prince Andrew after he defended his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein in a TV interview.
But a bank said it would not be renewing its backing for a project he founded.
“We will be reviewing the position of Prince Andrew, Duke of York, as our patron at the next board of governors meeting on Tuesday 26th November,” said London Metropolitan University.
“The university opposes all forms of discrimination of discrimination, abuse, human trafficking and any activity that is contrary to the university’s values.”
Andrew — Queen Elizabeth II’s second son — took over the role from his father, Prince Philip, in 2013. There have been royal patrons at the institution since 1848.
The review comes after the BBC broadcast a lengthy interview with the prince on Saturday in which he tried to explain his links to Epstein, who was found dead in jail in August.
Andrew strongly denied claims he had had sex with a 17-year-old girl allegedly trafficked by Epstein but expressed little regret about his friendship with the disgraced financier.
The unprecedented subject matter tackled in the television interview — and the royal’s apparent lack of empathy for victims — has dominated British media in recent days.
It has also put pressure on those with links to the prince.
Students at Huddersfield University in northern England said they wanted Andrew to resign as a patron, claiming he was “an utterly unsuitable representative” because of the allegations.
Standard Chartered bank meanwhile said it was not renewing its sponsorship of the prince’s [email protected] project, which encourages entrepreneurs and start-ups around the world.
The bank cited “commercial reasons” for not renewing the current agreement when it expires in December.
Accountancy firm KPMG’s backing for the mentoring scheme expired at the end of last month and will not be renewed.
Pharma giant AstraZeneca’s partnership is due up next month. It is also being reviewed.
Insurance giant AON reportedly asked for its logo to be removed from the [email protected] website, according to the Financial Times.