Protests in Pakistan delay release of Christian woman
ISLAMABAD (AP) — The release of a Christian woman in Pakistan who was acquitted eight years after being sentenced to death for blasphemy was apparently delayed today, after talks failed between the government and radical Islamists who want her publicly hanged.
Also, a lawyer representing a local cleric who had raised the initial blasphemy charges against Asia Bibi petitioned the Supreme Court on Thursday to reverse its acquittal.
The top court in a landmark decision on Wednesday overturned Bibi’s 2010 conviction of insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
Since then, Islamists have blocked highways and damaged or set-fire to dozens of vehicles to pressure the government to stop her release from an undisclosed detention facility.
Islamists were to hold nationwide rallies after Friday’s prayers, stoking fears violence. Pakistan shut down schools and colleges after radical cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the leader of Tehreek-e-Labbaik party, announced that “talks” between his deputies and the government about Bibi’s fate had failed.
Before dawn Friday, Rizvi told an emotionally-charged rally in the eastern city of Lahore that one of the government negotiators threatened his deputies during the talks that security forces will ruthlessly kill them if they did not disperse peacefully.
He asked his supporters to continue sit-ins as authorities summoned paramilitary troops to restore order.
“We are ready to die to show our love for the prophet,” he said.
Rizvi’s envoys had demanded that Bibi be barred from leaving the country but Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry rejected the demand, saying the government will not accept any dictates.
Ghulam Mustafa, a lawyer representing a provincial cleric in Punjab who had filed the initial blasphemy charges against Bibi, petitioned the Supreme Court, requesting the judges review her acquittal.
The court has set not dates to take up the petition, but Bibi’s release could be further delayed by the process. Pakistan’s Supreme Court has not been known to reverse its decisions but court reviews typically take years.
Authorities say they have stepped up security near an undisclosed detention facility where Bibi is being held for her safety. On Thursday, prison officials said two inmates were arrested last month for planning to kill Bibi by strangling her.
They said the men were still being questioned.
Bibi’s family had expected her release by Thursday night. Her husband, Ashiq Masih, returned from Britain with their children in mid-October and was waiting for her release so that they can fly out of Pakistan. Though the family has not disclosed the country of her destination, France and Spain have offered asylum.