Pakistan PM appeals for calm after Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy

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Shahbaz Taseer. (Photo: beenasarwar.com)

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was addressing the nation for one reason alone: to call for calm in the wake of the decision to free Asia Bibi.

Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, this evening urged the nation not to let a fraction of people incite them to take the law into their own hands over the decision of the Supreme Court to release a Christian woman who had been facing the death penalty for blasphemy.

The security situation in Pakistan has dramatically deteriorated since 9.35 this morning, when the Supreme Court announced its verdict that Asia Bibi’s conviction was to be quashed because of a lack of evidence. Since then Christians in Pakistan and people in general are quite fearful for their safety.

Last night, as rumours of the pending ruling emerged, Islamist political party Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan asked its members to gather, even if it meant they may be arrested or even killed by the state. When the decision came, a good number of TLP members were already stationed at important crossroads and buildings to launch their protests, which erupted in all major cities. Schools, colleges and universities were closed as the news spread.

“Saying that these justices are worthy to be put to death and then even going further, that the Chief of the Army Staff is not Muslim and generals should revolt against him, is unimaginable.”

Imran Khan

Addressing a large crowd in front of the Punjab Assembly in Lahore after the verdict, TLP patron Pir Afzal Qadri said: “All the three justices are now worthy to be killed as the sharia prescribes. If any of our workers are unable to have access to these justices, then their own drivers and security guards [should] kill them. Now [the chief of army staff] General Javed Qamar Bajwa is no more acceptable to us. Such a big decision without his approval cannot go through. The Muslim generals in the army have the responsibility to up-rise against the top generals. There should be uprising against General Bajwa. [Prime Minister] Imran Khan has proved that he is a Jewish child. Imran’s government [should] be immediately dismantled and these three justices kicked out [from the judiciary] and a case be registered against them because they have insulted the Holy Quran, traditions of the Prophet Muhammad and honour of the prophet.”

The protestors also chanted that a friend of a blasphemer is also worthy of death.

The provincial governments in Sindh and Punjab have declared states of emergency and banned any gathering of more than four people. In a common practice at times of tension, the Sindh government has also banned pillion riding (riding on the back of a motorbike) for the next ten days.

After this outburst of protests, associations of private schools in several major cities have announced a holiday for tomorrow, though the governments of Sindh and Punjab are yet to announce whether this will enforced across their provinces. The government has also called in the Army Rangers in Punjab to help keep law and order: Punjab is where the majority of Christians live.

TLP supporters call for Asia Bibi to be killed.

Khan, whose party Tehreek-e-Insaaf came to power in July, said in his address that he had appeared on TV to address the nation for only one reason: to respond to the reaction of a small section of society over the judgement.

“Pakistan is the first state that is founded on the principle of Islam after the Medina state [founded 1,400 years ago in Arabia]. It means that no law in Pakistan can be against the Holy Quran and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. Now the decision that the justices have given is according to the constitution and the constitution is under the Holy Quran and the sayings of the Prophet.

“Saying that these justices are worthy to be put to death and then even going further, that the Chief of the Army Staff is not Muslim and generals should revolt against him, is unimaginable.”

“The Supreme Court is our national institution. All other institutions, including the National Assembly, should stand with the Supreme Court. We cannot run the country from the streets. We can [only] run this country according to the constitution and law.”

Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari

He said that since his party came into power, they had not had a single day’s holiday as they strive to bring the country out of its economic debt trap. He said this government was working with other countries to bring investment to Pakistan and that such examples of extremist culture did not help.

“Don’t let them [the extremists] incite you in any case,” he said. “This is not service to Islam but enmity with the country. Only enemies of the country talk like this, that judges be killed and there be mutiny in the army. This army has made huge sacrifices in the war on terror. This is a lie that the Chief of the Army Staff is not Muslim. I appeal to all people: don’t give in to these people who are inciting you only for politics. I also appeal to these elements: don’t clash with the state, do not outshine your politics. We are getting out of a financial crisis, so don’t damage the country only to improve your vote bank. If you will, then the state will fulfill its responsibility. People’s lives and their properties will be safeguarded. We will not let roads be blocked. I appeal to you not to stretch the state to the point where we take action.”

The prime minister met with General Bajwa shortly after his address to the nation.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, backed the Supreme Court’s decision, saying: “The Supreme Court is our national institution. All other institutions, including the National Assembly, should stand with the Supreme Court.

“We cannot run the country from the streets. We can [only] run this country according to the constitution and law.”

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