Islamist Party Wants to Oust Pakistani PM as 'Blasphemous' Christian Woman Freed

Asia Bibi

Talking tough, Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan Wednesday told hardliners not to "confront the State" and refrain from vandalism after the Supreme Court acquitted a Christian woman sentenced to death for committing blasphemy.

TLP, founded in 2015, blockaded the capital Islamabad for several weeks past year calling for stricter enforcement of Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws.

Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) chief Khadim Rizvi said Thursday that his party is not linked with the miscreants, adding that he will continue his peaceful struggle.

"The message must go out that the blasphemy laws will no longer be used to persecute the country's most vulnerable minorities", he said.

She has been offered asylum by several countries and many expect her and her family to leave Pakistan. "Her conviction is set aside", said Pakistan's Chief Justice Saqib Nisar in the ruling. Afridi said they will get the routes blocked by protesters reopened "through wisdom", for which all institutions were in coordination with each other.

Flash mobs blocked traffic and had altercations with the police.

Bibi was wearing green and orange traditional Pakistani dress and a scarf when an AP reporter saw her at the facility.

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".

There are fears that there could be a violent response to her acquittal. Her husband, Ashiq Masih, returned from Britain with their children in mid-October and was waiting for her release so that they could fly out of Pakistan.

"We will protect life and property of people.We will not let them (protestors) involve in vandalism or close down the roads", he said, referring to protestors blocking a highway linking the capital Islamabad with garrison city of Rawalpindi. Authorities deployed paramilitary troops, signaling they could move in to clear the roads. She was convicted in 2010 and sentenced to death by hanging.

By late afternoon, two other religious movements, including one headed by Hafiz Saeed, who has a $10 million US bounty on his head for his alleged involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, announced that they would also join the protests.

Demonstrations are also being held in Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Multan - and clashes with police have been reported. The hardline Tehreek-e-Labaik party (TLP) has called for the death of the judges who freed Bibi.

The three-judge panel upheld the blasphemy law itself, saying it was consistent with verses from Islam's holy book, the Quran.

At least two government officials have been assassinated after speaking out in her case. I appeal to you... do not take the state to a point where it has no option but to take action.

Bibi's lawyer, Saiful Malook, has gone into hiding as the extremists had threatened his life as well.

He also called for the ousting of Khan's new government and urged army officers to rise up against powerful military chief General Lamar Jawed Baja. A few days later, a mob accused her of blasphemy. As the BBC noted, "The killer, Mumtaz Qadri, was executed, but has become a cult hero with a large shrine dedicated to him on the outskirts of Islamabad".

Among those killed were Salman Taseer, then a provincial governor, and Shahbaz Bhatti, then a federal minister, in 2010.

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