Violence Continues as Pakistani Islamists Protest Christian Woman’s “Blasphemy” Acquittal
Investigative Project on Terrorism
Thousands of Islamist demonstrators in Pakistan continue to violently protest the acquittal of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was falsely accused of blasphemy and spent the last eight years on death row.
Protesters clashed with police, burned cars and disrupted traffic, blocking ambulances. Schools across Pakistan have been closed and a major zone in Islamabad is sealed off.
Asia Bibi was charged in 2009 with insulting Islam’s prophet Muhammad after drinking from a cup of water before allowing fellow Muslim farm laborers drink first. After being beaten in her home, Bibi’s accusers say that she confessed to blasphemy. She was sentenced to death in 2010.
On Wednesday, Pakistan’s Supreme Court overturned her sentence. For that, the Supreme Court judges “deserve to be killed,” said Muhammad Afzal Qadri, leader of the extremist Islamist Tehreek-i-Labaik party. But Bibi has not been released from prison, as negotiations for her safety broke down between the government and Islamists.
“Which government can function like this, blackmailed by protests?” asked Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, accusing the Islamists for “inciting [people] for their own political gain.”
Radical religious groups, including a charity founded by UN-designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed, vowed to join the protests today.
Public support for blasphemy laws in Pakistan remains high, driving a wedge between the ruling party and extreme Islamists stoking protests. And that sentiment is not limited to South Asia.
A Maryland mosque last year praised the terrorist who killed a former Pakistani governor critical of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Salman Taseer was targeted by radical Islamists after he defended Bibi. In 2011, his bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri shot and killed him.
American Islamist groups said nothing about Taseer’s killing.
After Qadri was executed for the killing in 2016, the Gulzar E Madina mosque hosted a celebration in his memory, “attended by dozens of people including young children and teenagers.”
Radical Islamists in Pakistan, whether organized terrorist groups or mobs of people, often take matters into their hands.
In April 2017, a violent mob beat to death a university student who faced a blasphemy accusation that investigators later deemed false.
Sunni terrorist groups connected to extremist Pakistani organizations last year targeted minorities in several deadly attacks including Ahmadi Muslims, the Shi’a Hazara community, and Christians.
In December, for example, Islamic State terrorists killed nine civilians in a targeted attack involving a suicide bomber against a Methodist church in Quetta.
Pakistan has charged about 1,000 people with blasphemy since 1987, and convictions can carry the death penalty. These laws especially target members of Pakistan’s minority communities. But the law can be also applied to anyone that is seen as a threat to the government.
According to the US State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2017, civil society organizations “reported lower courts often failed to adhere to basic evidentiary standards in blasphemy cases.”
Asia Bibi’s acquittal highlights the plight of all religious minorities in Pakistan and the destructive power of radical Islamists across the country.
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