Christian woman acquitted in Pakistan to leave country

Protesters block a road during a demonstration in Karachi on Wednesday, October 31, against a court decision to overturn the conviction of a Christian woman for blasphemy. (AFP)
Updated 01 November 2018

Christian woman acquitted in Pakistan to leave country

  • Asia Bibi’s acquittal immediately raised fears of religious violence
  • Prime Minister Khan ha warned the Islamists: ‘Let me make it very clear to you that the state will fulfil its responsibility’

ISLAMABAD: A Christian woman acquitted in Pakistan after eight years on death row for blasphemy plans to leave the country, her family said Thursday as radical Islamists mounted rallies for a second day against the verdict, blocking roads and burning tires in protest.
The developments followed a landmark move by Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Wednesday that overturned the 2010 conviction against Asia Bibi for insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. The charge of blasphemy carries the death penalty in this majority Muslim nation.
Bibi’s acquittal immediately raised fears of religious violence — and presented a challenge to the government of new Prime Minister Imran Khan who came to power this summer partly by pursuing the Islamist agenda. Khan warned Islamist protesters on Wednesday night not to “test the patience of the state.”
Bibi remained at an undisclosed location Thursday where the 54-year-old mother of five was being held for security reasons, awaiting her formal release, her brother, James Masih told The Associated Press.
Masih said his sister simply would not be safe in Pakistan.
“She has no other option and she will leave the country soon,” he said. Masih would not disclose the country of her destination but both France and Spain have offered asylum.
Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih, had returned from Britain with their children in mid-October and was waiting for her to join them, the brother added.
Meanwhile, more than 1,000 Islamists blocked a key road linking the capital, Islamabad with the garrison city of Rawalpindi on Thursday, demanding Bibi be publicly hanged. Authorities deployed paramilitary troops, signaling they could move in to clear the roads.
Protesters, rallied by firebrand cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, also set up roadblocks and burned tires in the southern port city of Karachi while hundreds of Islamists clashed Thursday with police in various parts of eastern Punjab province.
Many parents kept their children from school, fearing more violence.
The Islamists also called for the killing of the three judges, including Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, who acquitted Bibi.
The three are on the hit list of Rizvi’s Tehreek-e-Labbaik party, which has demanded a public execution for Bibi. Rizvi has managed to turn out tens of thousands of supporters in the past, often forcing authorities to bow to his demands on religious matters.
Tehreek-e-Labbaik claimed Thursday that two of its supporters were killed by police fire during overnight clashes in Karachi. No government official could immediately confirm any casualties.
In his televised speech, Prime Minister Khan warned the Islamists: “Let me make it very clear to you that the state will fulfil its responsibility.”
Bibi’s lawyer, Saiful Malook, has gone into hiding as the extremists had threatened his life as well.
On Wednesday, cleric Afzal Qadri, with Rizvi by his side, urged a crowd of supporters outside the Punjab provincial parliament in the city of Lahore to revolt against army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa and overthrow Khan’s government.
Bibi’s acquittal, however, has been seen as a hopeful sign by Christians in Pakistan, where the mere rumor of blasphemy can spark lynchings. Religious minorities, who have been repeatedly targeted by extremists, fear the law because it is often used to settle scores and to pressure minorities.
In 2011, Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, was shot and killed by one of his guards for defending Bibi and criticizing the misuse of the blasphemy law. The assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, was hanged for the crime, but later was hailed by religious hard-liners as a martyr, with millions visiting a shrine set up for him near Islamabad.
Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s minister for minorities was also killed in 2011 after he demanded justice for Bibi.
Bibi was arrested in 2009 after she was accused of blasphemy following a quarrel with two fellow female farm workers who refused to drink from a water container used by a Christian. A few days later, a mob accused her of insulting Islam’s prophet, leading to her 2010 conviction.
Bibi’s family has always maintained her innocence and says she never insulted the prophet.


Taliban attacks ‘damaging’ peace process, says Afghan govt

Updated 41 min 59 sec ago

Taliban attacks ‘damaging’ peace process, says Afghan govt

  • Spokesman for insurgent group accuses Kabul of making ‘excuses’ to delay talks

KABUL: Afghanistan’s government on Sunday accused the Taliban of increasing its attacks, casting doubt on future negotiations with the insurgent group.

A promise of future peace talks was part of a historic peace deal signed in February between the Taliban and the US in Doha, Qatar. But negotiations have already been delayed twice because of disagreements between President Ashraf Ghani’s government and the Taliban. The talks were expected to pave the way for a total withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan by next year.

In a series of tweets on Sunday, Sediq Sediqqi, Ghani’s chief spokesman, said the “intensification of violence by the Taliban lately,” which also claimed civilian lives, “damages hopes for the start of the talks and stable peace in the country.”

It follows a statement by Hamdullah Mohib, Ghani’s national security adviser, who said in a statement last night that the escalation of Taliban attacks was the “main cause for the postponement of the talks.”

He said: “The Taliban have intensified their violence in many parts of Afghanistan, disrupting the process of direct talks and making it harder.”

Mohib’s spokesman, Javid Faisal, said on Saturday that in the past week alone, the Taliban had staged attacks in 16 of the country’s 34 provinces, resulting in the deaths of at least 23 civilians.

He did not give an estimate of casualties sustained by government forces. However, official data released last month showed that hundreds of army and police personnel died during Taliban attacks in June.

The Taliban has rejected the claims of the government. Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid blamed Kabul for several strikes which “led to the fatalities among non-combatants.”

These include a rocket attack at a cattle market in southern Helmand in June, where human rights groups say dozens of civilians, including children, were killed.

“A political solution is the only alternative that we have for ending the war and changing the situation in Afghanistan. No hindrance should be created against this,” Mujahid told Arab News on Sunday.

He accused Kabul of blocking the start of peace talks by not releasing 5,000 Taliban prisoners, a condition demanded by the insurgent group ahead of negotiations.

While Kabul has freed over 4,000 Taliban prisoners, it said last week that it would not release 600 of them, “as they had committed various types of crimes.”

Mujahid described the government move as “one excuse after the other.”

He said: “The release of the rest of the prisoners is a must. If the process of release of prisoners is not completed, the talks cannot begin, and there is a possibility that fighting will intensify and then we will have to settle the conflict through military means.”

Experts warn that Ghani’s government is under increasing pressure.

Former diplomat and analyst Ahmad Saeedi said Ghani is under pressure from Washington, which “wants to show that it is keen to conduct talks, but from the other side wants this process to continue for five years,” until Ghani’s term ends.

“Ghani wants the Taliban to join his government, while the Taliban consider his government fragile, arguing that if he does not engage in talks, then they will take power by force after the US pulls out troops,” Saeedi said.

Another analyst, Taj Mohammad, said the lack of progress in setting a fixed time for the talks was a blow for the peace process and “showed that the actual negotiations would be highly complicated and difficult.”