Asia Bibi: Protests stop Christian woman leaving Pakistan three days after court overturns blasphemy charge

Hardline Islamists block motorways, set fire to cars and call for her to be publicly hanged

Samuel Osborne
Friday 02 November 2018 18:04
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Protests across Pakistan after acquittal of Asia Bibi blasphemy trial

Protests by radical Islamists have apparently stalled the release of a Christian woman in Pakistan who has been acquitted after being sentenced to death for blasphemy.

Asia Bibi was acquitted by the Supreme Court eight years after she was convicted of insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

Ms Bibi, who had been living on death row since 2010, insisted she never insulted Islam’s prophet and her family has always maintained her innocence.

Since the ruling, hardline Islamists held rallies across Pakistan in which they blocked motorways, damaged or set fire to dozens of cars and called for her to be publicly hanged.

They have also called for the death of the judges who made the decision and the ouster of Pakistan’s government.

Pakistan suspended mobile phone networks in major cities on Friday, and many schools were shut down as Islamist groups protested for the third day.

Around 5,000 Islamists rallied in the capital, Islamabad, and nearly 4,000 staged a sit-in in Lahore, demanding her acquittal verdict be overturned. Similar rallies were also held in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

Over 2,000 demonstrators blocked a key road linking Islamabad with the garrison city of Rawalpindi, causing traffic jams, and hundreds blocked another key motorway connecting Islamabad with other major cities.

No violence was reported during the rallies.

Undated handout photo of Asia Bibi (AFP/Getty Images)

Authorities have also increased security near an undisclosed detention facility where Ms Bibi is being held for her safety.

On Thursday, prison officials announced that two inmates were arrested last month for planning to kill Ms Bibi by strangling her. They said the men were still being questioned.

Ms Bibi’s case has outraged Christians worldwide and served as a source of division within Pakistan, where two politicians who sought to help her were assassinated.

She was arrested in 2009 after being accused of blasphemy following a quarrel with two fellow farm workers who refused to drink from a cup used by a Christian and demanded she convert to Islam.

A few days later, a mob accused her of insulting the Prophet Muhammad, leading to her conviction in 2010.

Pakistani Islamists shout slogans during a protest rally following the Supreme Court's decision to acquit Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi of blasphemy, in Quetta on 2 November, 2018

Her family had expected her to be released by Thursday night.

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.

Though the family has not disclosed the country of her destination, France and Spain have offered asylum.

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