Pakistan struggles to contain violent blasphemy protests

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Protesters rally in Karachi on Thursday, November 1, to condemn a Supreme Court decision that acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, who spent eight years on death row accused of blasphemy. (AP)
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A supporter of the Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat, a hard-line religious group, holds an image of Christian woman Asia Bibi during a protest in Islamabad following the verdict to acquit her of blasphemy. Pakistan’s powerful military warned on Friday its patience had been thoroughly tested after being threatened by violent protesters. (AFP)
Updated 03 November 2018

Pakistan struggles to contain violent blasphemy protests

  • Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned the 2010 conviction of Asia Bibi on blasphemy
  • Islamists have blocked highways to pressure the government to stop her release

ISLAMABAD: Stressing that Pakistan’s government had very few options over the Supreme Court’s verdict in the blasphemy case, experts said on Friday that dialogue would be the best way to resolve the matter.

Sharafat Ali, a Supreme Court senior advocate, told Arab News that the government is not a complainant in the blasphemy case and therefore can do little to “legally meet any requirements of the protesters.”
Asia Bibi, a 51-year-old woman and a mother of five, was accused of blasphemy in 2009 in Sheikhupura and was condemned to death by the lower courts. She had been in prison ever since. The country’s top court acquitted Bibi of blasphemy charges on Wednesday, reasoning that the prosecution had categorically failed to prove its case.
Shortly after the verdict, activists of a far-right religious party, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) took to the streets in all major cities of the country, including Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore, and blocked the main arteries, thereby disrupting public life. They have also been accused of inciting followers through fiery speeches against members of the army and the judges who passed the verdict.
Ali said that the government should have charged the leaders of the protesting parties, specifically the TLP’s wheelchair-bound leader, cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, and his associates,  with “treason” for the incitement against state institutions.
“If the government fails to register cases against some key clerics leading the protests under incitement and treason charges, this will further embolden the extremists,” he said.
Talking to the media outside Parliament House on Friday, Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Afridi said that the government was negotiating with the party leaders and “there will soon be a positive progress.”
However, he categorically said that the government will not use force to disperse protesters. “We don’t want any bloodshed,” he said.
Tahir Malik, an academic and a political analyst, said the government is caught in a catch-22 situation as protesters have refused to back down from their demand under the verdict was reversed.
“Dialogue seems to be the only option to resolve the issue peacefully,” he told Arab News.
“If the government uses force against protesters, a considerable segment of the society can move against the authorities and further complicate the issue,” he said.
Malik said that there is a need to devise a long-term strategy to deradicalize the society through the teachings of Islam. “The entire political leadership should join hands to ostracize extremists and ideology of extremism in the society,” he added.


Mexico grants asylum to Bolivian leader Morales

Updated 12 November 2019

Mexico grants asylum to Bolivian leader Morales

  • Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard: Several minutes ago I received a phone call from (former) president Evo Morales to verbally and formally request political asylum in our country
  • Mexico had said it was prepared to grant Morales asylum, after Bolivia’s first indigenous president stepped down amid massive protests

MEXICO CITY: Mexico said Monday it has granted asylum to Bolivia’s Evo Morales, after the leftist president’s departure left the South American nation reeling amid a power vacuum.
“Several minutes ago I received a phone call from (former) president Evo Morales to verbally and formally request political asylum in our country,” Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard told a news conference.
“Interior Minister Olga Sanchez Cordero made the decision to grant him asylum... for humanitarian reasons.”
Morales will have asylum with immediate effect for his own protection, Ebrard added, but did not answer journalists’ questions on whether he would travel to Mexico, and if so when he would arrive.
Mexico had said Sunday it was prepared to grant Morales asylum, after Bolivia’s first indigenous president stepped down amid massive protests and growing unrest over his fraud-stained re-election on October 20.
Morales, 60, had been in power since 2006.