Radical Islamists want Ms Bibi publicly hanged, while one cleric urges his supporters to kill the three judges who acquitted her.
Friday 02 November 2018
There were protests in a number of large Pakistani cities
By Lucia Binding, news reporter
The release of a Pakistani Christian woman who was acquitted eight years after being sentenced to death for blasphemy has been delayed.
Asia Bibi was convicted in 2010 after being accused of insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad in a dispute with her neighbours.
The mother-of-three, 47, has always maintained her innocence – but has spent the majority of the past eight years in solitary confinement.
Her release was delayed following protests by radical Islamists, who want her publicly hanged, and failed talks between them and the government.
Asia Bibi denies the charge but has spent years in solitary confinement
A lawyer representing a local cleric who had raised the initial blasphemy charges against Ms Bibi petitioned the supreme court on Thursday to reverse its acquittal.
Her husband, Ashiq Masih, returned from Britain with their children in mid-October and was waiting for her release so they could leave Pakistan.
France and Spain have offered her asylum, while the former bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, who is a Christian born in Pakistan, said Ms Bibi should be granted asylum in the UK.
On Wednesday, the top court overturned Ms Bibi’s conviction.
Tehreek-e-Labaik supporters blocked a street in Islamabad
Riot police stood guard on a blocked street leading to Pakistan’s supreme court
It prompted over 2,000 Islamists to block a key road linking the capital, Islamabad, with the garrison city of Rawalpindi, causing traffic jams.
Hundreds also blocked another key motorway linking Islamabad with other major cities.
Other protesters damaged or set fire to dozens of vehicles to pressure the government to prevent Ms Bibi’s release.
Demonstrations are also being held in Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Multan – and clashes with police have been reported.
Ms Bibi’s acquittal has posed a challenged for Pakistan’s new prime minister, Imran Khan, who came to power this summer partly by pursuing an Islamist agenda.
He condemned the Islamists after cleric Afzal Qadri urged supporters to kill the three judges who acquitted Ms Bibi, revolt against army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and overthrow Mr Khan’s government.
Islamists were to hold nationwide rallies after Friday’s prayers, stoking fears of violence.
Schools and colleges have been closed after radical cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the leader of Tehreek-e-Labbaik party, announced that “talks” between his deputies and the government about Ms Bibi’s fate had failed.
“We are ready to die to show our love for the prophet,” he told an emotionally charged rally in Lahore.
Mr Rizvi’s envoys wanted Ms Bibi barred from leaving the country, but information minister Fawad Chaudhry rejected the demand and said the government would not be dictated to.
Ghulam Mustafa, a lawyer representing a provincial cleric in Punjab who had filed the initial blasphemy charges, asked the supreme court to review her acquittal.
This could result further delay Ms Bibi’s release.
Pakistan’s supreme court has not been known to reverse its decisions, but court reviews tend to take years.
Security has been stepped up near the facility where Ms Bibi is being held, authorities said.