Pakistan blasphemy protests to end after deal struck | News | DW | 03.11.2018

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Pakistan blasphemy protests to end after deal struck

Hard-line Islamists have been baying for blood after the Supreme Court overturned a woman's blasphemy conviction. Thousands of protesters had shut down major transport throughout the country.

Pakistan's hard-line Islamists called off nation-crippling protests after striking a deal with the government on the legal future of a Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy.

Supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan party (TLP) had held three days of sit-ins and demonstrations after the Supreme Court of Pakistan overturned mother-of-five Asia Bibi's blasphemy conviction, ending her eight years on death row.

Read more: Islamists block roads in Pakistan over Asia Bibi blasphemy case

What is the deal?

Government ministers and TLP officials confirmed to news outlets they had struck a deal, under which:

  • protests will end
  • arrested protesters will be released without charge
  • the government will not block a review of the ruling
  • Bibi will be banned from leaving the country

Bibi still behind bars

The regional prison chief told DW that Bibi had not been freed yet because his department had not received the Supreme Court's order directing her release. 

"We are awaiting the court's instruction," Shahid Saleem Baig, inspector general of the Punjab Prison Department, told DW. 

"Right now, Asia Bibi is in jail and her location can't be disclosed for security reasons amid rabble-rousing by religious zealots demanding the court reverse its verdict."

Read more: Asia Bibi's husband tells DW he fears for wife's safety

'Not unexpected'

Bibi's lawyer, Saif-ul-Mulook, told the Agence France-Presse news agency that the outcry by Islamists was "unfortunate but not unexpected." However, he criticized the government's inability to stem the violence and disorder, calling the official response "painful."

Mulook has left Pakistan for Europe, saying it was impossible for him to live in the country at present, citing threats to his life.

"I need to stay alive as I still have to fight the legal battle for Asia Bibi," he said. 

Why are Islamists angry?

Blasphemy is a serious offense in the Islamic Republic. Bibi was originally sentenced to death for allegedly making derogatory remarks about the prophet Muhammad when a Muslim neighbor objected to her drinking from their glassware as she was not a Muslim.

The Supreme Court overturning her conviction was seen as a capitulation to foreign pressure and an affront to Islamic sensibilities.

Read more: Opinion: Bibi verdict avoids Pakistan's blasphemy problem

What do they want? Protesters want the case reviewed — an often yearslong process — and her eventual public hanging. Despite the lengthy process, however, the court rarely reverses its own rulings.

aw/bw (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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