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.


India protests spread over ‘anti-Muslim’ law

Updated 35 min 5 sec ago

India protests spread over ‘anti-Muslim’ law

  • The new bill fast-tracks citizenship for non-Muslim immigrants from three neighboring countries
  • Four buses and two police vehicles were reportedly set ablaze during protests

NEW DELHI: Fresh protests were expected across India on Monday over a new citizenship law seen as anti-Muslim, after clashes overnight in the capital and days of unrest in the northeast that left six people dead.
The bill fast-tracks citizenship for non-Muslim immigrants from three neighboring countries, but critics allege it is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda to marginalize India’s 200 million Muslims — something he denies.
On Sunday evening thousands took to the streets in the northeast, the scene of days of rioting and deadly running battles with police, while other protests were reported across India in Delhi, Aligarh, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Patna and Raipur.
In the capital, officers fired tear gas and charged with batons as several thousand demonstrators marched, and rallied outside the Jamia Millia Islamia university and police headquarters. Four buses and two police vehicles were reportedly set ablaze.
Police stormed the university campus, with media outlets reporting as many as 100 students and a dozen officers were injured.
Around 50 people were detained and released after a night behind bars on Monday, police said.
Students insisted in a statement that they disassociated themselves from any violence.
“We have time and again maintained that our protests are peaceful and non-violent. We stand by this approach and condemn any party involved in the violence,” they declared.
Authorities in northern Uttar Pradesh have snapped Internet access in western parts of the state following the demonstrations on Aligarh, home to a large university and a sizeable Muslim population.
However, the main epicenter of the protests has been in India’s far-flung northeastern states, long a seething and violent melting pot of ethnic tensions.
Their people are opposed to the citizenship law because they fear it will allow several hundred thousand immigrants from Bangladesh, many of them Hindu, to stay.
On Sunday night in Assam state — following days of rioting and clashes with police that have left six people dead — around 6,000 people protested on Sunday evening, with no major incidents reported.
The UN human rights office said last week it was concerned the law “would appear to undermine the commitment to equality before the law enshrined in India’s constitution.”
Modi on Sunday blamed the main opposition Congress party and its allies for the unrest, while Home Minister Amit Shah called again for calm.
“Culture, language, social identity and political rights of our brothers and sisters from the northeast will remain intact,” Shah said in a speech.
The new law is being challenged in the Supreme Court by rights groups and a Muslim political party, arguing that it is against the constitution and India’s secular traditions.