Government wants peaceful resolution of protests: Pakistan minister

Supporters of the Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan Islamist political party block the Faizabad junction in Islamabad on Nov. 1, 2018 in protest after the Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy. (REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood)
Updated 02 November 2018

Government wants peaceful resolution of protests: Pakistan minister

  • Supporters of the Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan Islamist political party are protesting the Supreme Court's overturning of the conviction of a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy
  • Federal Minister for Higher Education Shafqat Mahmood said the government has initiated dialogue with protesters to disperse them peacefully

 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s government has decided not to use force against people protesting against the Supreme Court decision to release Asia Bibi, the Christian woman who had been imprisoned for eight years on blasphemy charges and who was facing a death sentence.

Shaheryar Khan Afridi, state minister for the interior, announced it in the National Assembly on Thursday after the federal government’s consultations with higher authorities in all four provinces. His words struck a different tone after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s tough televised address to the nation on Wednesday. 

“The government has initiated dialogue with protesters to disperse them peacefully,” he said. “The nation will get good news soon.”

Before Afridi made his statement on the floor of the house, Federal Minister for Higher Education Shafqat Mahmood said that the government was trying to address the situation in different ways.

“Negotiations are underway with those who believe in the rule of law,” he said, “and security forces are also prepared to disperse those who are challenging the state’s writ.”

The minister said the government was fulfilling its responsibility by ensuring that the Supreme Court judgment was carried out. “We believe in the rule of law and stand with the Supreme Court,” he added.

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 said.

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.

In defiance of the government’s warnings, hard-liners blocked roads in major cities for the second consecutive day on Thursday, demanding that the Supreme Court verdict be overturned.

Pakistan’s opposition parties have extended a helping hand to the government to deal with the crisis through dialogue with the protesters. 

They said that Prime Minister Imran Khan should win the confidence of members of the National Assembly over his strategy.

 “This is a sensitive issue and should be resolved through dialogue,” Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz lawmaker, Khawaja Saad Rafique, said while advising the government not to use force against the protesters. “We don’t want to exploit the situation for political gains,” he said. “Some elements are on the roads in the name of religion but no intelligent person can support their narrative.”

Pakistan Peoples Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said a joint strategy should be devised to deal with the situation. “We can steer the country out of this crisis by joining hands,” he said. “It is our collective responsibility to maintain law and order.”

However, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal lawmaker, Abdul Shakoor, accused the government of not pursuing the case against Bibi more diligently. “The whole Pakistani nation has rejected the Supreme Court’s verdict, and we are even ready to sacrifice our lives to protect the honor of the Prophet,” he told Arab News.


Police crack down on riots over citizenship bill for non-Muslims

Updated 12 December 2019

Police crack down on riots over citizenship bill for non-Muslims

  • Groups of protesters defied the curfew in Gauhati, the state capital, on Thursday morning and burned tires before police dispersed them
  • Police used batons and tear gas to disperse protesters in 10 out of the state’s 33 districts

GAUHATI, India: Police arrested dozens of people and enforced curfew Thursday in several districts in India’s northeastern Assam state where thousands protested legislation granting citizenship to non-Muslims who migrated from neighboring countries.

Groups of protesters defied the curfew in Gauhati, the state capital, on Thursday morning and burned tires before police dispersed them.

Soldiers drove and marched though the streets to reinforce police in violence-hit districts, which included Gauhati and Dibrugarh, said state police chief Bhaskar Mahanta.

The protesters in Assam oppose the legislation out of concern that migrants will move to the border region and dilute the culture and political sway of indigenous tribal people. The legislation was passed by Parliament on Wednesda and now needs to be signed by the country’s ceremonial president, a formality, before becoming law.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed for peace and in a tweet said: “I want to assure them — no one can take away your rights, unique identity and beautiful culture. It will continue to flourish and grow.”

The Press Trust of India news agency said the protesters uprooted telephone poles, burned several buses and other vehicles and also attacked homes of officials from the governing Hindu nationalist party and the regional group Assam Gana Parishad.

Police used batons and tear gas to disperse protesters in 10 out of the state’s 33 districts.

While those protesting in Assam are opposed to the bill because of worries it will allow immigrants, no matter their faith, to live in their region, others are opposed to the bill because they see it as discriminatory for not applying to Muslims.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill, seeks to grant Indian nationality to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs who fled Pakistan, Afghanistan and
Bangladesh because of religious persecution before 2015. It does not, however, extend to Rohingya Muslim refugees who fled persecution in Myanmar.

Home Minister Amit Shah said it was not anti-Muslim because it did not affect the existing path to citizenship available to all communities.
Amnesty India said the legislation legitimized discrimination on the basis of religion and stood in clear violation of the India’s constitution and international human rights law.

“Welcoming asylum seekers is a positive step, but in a secular country like India, slamming the door on persecuted Muslims and other communities merely for their faith reeks of fear-mongering and bigotry,” the rights group said in a statement.

Several opposition lawmakers who debated the bill in Parliament said it would be challenged in court.

“Today marks a dark day in the constitutional history of India,” said Sonia Gandhi of the main opposition Congress party. “The passage of the Citizenship Amendment
Bill marks the victory of narrow-minded and bigoted forces over India’s pluralism.”

Its passage follows a contentious citizenship registry exercise in Assam intended to identify legal residents and weed out those in the country illegally. Shah has pledged to roll it out nationwide, promising to rid India of “infiltrators.”

Nearly 2 million people in Assam were excluded from the list — about half Hindus and the other half Muslims — and have been asked to prove their citizenship or else be rendered stateless.

India is constructing a detention center for some of the tens of thousands the courts are expected to ultimately determine came to the country illegally.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill could provide protection and a fast track to naturalization for many of the Hindus left off Assam’s citizenship list.