Over 90 members of hardline religious parties have been arrested from different parts of Pakistan’s Punjab province for holding demonstrations against the Supreme Court’s decision to reject a review plea against the acquittal of Christian woman Asia Bibi in a blasphemy case.
Punjab Police spokesperson Nabila Ghazanfar said that most arrests have been made from Lahore, Gujranwala and Ralwapindi.
“Police have arrested more than 90 activists of different religious parties mostly Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) on Tuesday and Wednesday for creating law and order situation,” Ghazanfar told PTI on Wednesday.
She said three protests were held in Lahore, one each in Gujranwala and Rawalpindi but ‘timely action’ by police thwarted them and arrested the participants.
Bibi, 47, is finally a free woman after all the legal impediments in her way came to an end on Tuesday, when the apex court threw out a petition seeking to review its verdict of acquitting the victim of a blasphemy charge.
“On merit, this review petition is dismissed,” pronounced Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa after hearing out for almost 90 minutes advocate Chaudhry Ghulam Mustafa who represented the petitioner Qari Muhammad Salam, the prayer leader who had lodged the original FIR against Aasia Bibi in 2009.
On October 31, the SC reversed the judgements of the Lahore High Court as well as the trial court, thus setting aside the conviction and the death sentence awarded to Bibi.
The apex court’s decision in October last to overturn her conviction sparked nationwide violent protests and death threats from hardline Islamist groups. The protests subsided when the government allowed the protesters to file a review petition against Bibi’s acquittal.
Later, a nationwide crackdown had been carried out against the TLP and all of its central leadership including its chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi had been put behind bars.
Meanwhile, Bibi may leave the country shortly as there are threats to her life. Her two daughter had already shifted to Canada.
Her case has been deeply divisive in Pakistan where there is strong support for the controversial blasphemy laws.
Bibi’s case gained prominence when former governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province Salman Taseer was killed in 2011 for supporting her and criticising the blasphemy laws.
A month after Taseer was killed, Pakistan’s religious minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian who spoke out against the blasphemy law, was shot dead in Islamabad.
The blasphemy laws were promulgated by former military dictator Ziaul Haq in 1980s. A person convicted under these laws is given death sentence.