Islamist Party Calls For Death Of Judges Who Freed Christian Woman

Aasia Bibi

Had the judges not ruled in her favor, and without presidential clemency, Bibi would have become the first woman and first non-Muslim hanged under Pakistan's strict anti-blasphemy law, which carries a mandatory penalty of death.

Another person saw her drinking water from a cup that had previously been used by Muslims and informed Bibi that it was not proper for a Christian to use that cup, as she was unclean.

BBC News reporter Secunder Kermani, on the ground in Islamabad on Wednesday, wrote, "Asia Bibi's lawyer, closely flanked by a policeman, told me he was "happy" with the verdict, but also afraid for his and his client's safety". Coutts noted. "But we will not give up".

An argument ensued, and Bibi was reported to a Muslim cleric five days later for her supposed blasphemy.

Bibi did not appear in the courtroom and her whereabouts were a closely held secret for fear of attacks on her and her family.

In this context, the persistent controversy that has rocked the globe ever since Asia Bibi's conviction can be chronicled. Extra police and Pakistani Rangers, a paramilitary force, were deployed at important government buildings, including the Supreme Court.

Street protests and blockades of major roads were spreading by mid-afternoon, paralysing parts of Islamabad, Lahore and other cities.

The TLP's leadership called for the death of Nasif, the chief justice, and two other judges on the panel.

"They all three deserve to be killed".

The party also called for the ouster of the government of new Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Mere calls to reform the law have provoked violence, most notably the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, by his own bodyguard in broad daylight in Islamabad in 2011. Some schools announced they were closing early.

But the judges, who took no issue with death as punishment for blasphemy, said that in this case they were bound to honor the accused's presumption of innocence, which they found had been violated. Seven people were killed and more than 200 wounded in clashes with the police and TLP's supporters only dispersed after striking a deal with the military.

In February, Bibi's husband Ashiq Masih and one of her daughters met with Pope Francis shortly before Rome's ancient Colosseum was lit in red one evening in solidarity with persecuted Christians, and Bibi in particular.

She described her thoughts at the announcement to a reporter over the phone: "I can't believe what I am hearing: will I go out now?"

Being a small-scale labourer from a minority community, it did not take long for Asia to be arrested and sentenced to death. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said that he supports the country's harsh blasphemy laws.

Although Pakistan has sentenced offenders to death under the law, Pakistan has yet to execute anyone for committing blasphemy. In April 2017, 23-year-old liberalist Mashal Khan was lynched and brutalised to death by a large mob inside his university campus on unproven blasphemy charges.

Christians make up only about 2 percent of Pakistan's population and are sometimes discriminated against.

"This is a landmark verdict", said Omar Waraich, deputy South Asia director for Amnesty International.

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