As violent protests spread in Pakistan against the acquittal of a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, by the Supreme Court, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday appealed the people to maintain calm and warned hardliners not to confront the State. Bibi was sentenced to death in 2010 after being found guilty of insulting Islam. Her death sentence was maintained by the Lahore High Court in 2014. The Supreme Court, however, on Wednesday freed her, sparking angry protests and death threats from an ultra-religious party.
Taking a tough stand, Khan warned hardliners not to “confront the State” and refrain from vandalism, while addressing the nation through a video message. I ask these elements (protestors) to avoid confronting the State. But if they opted to do so, the State will fulfil its responsibilities,” Khan said.
“We will protect life and property of people…We will not let them (protestors) involve in vandalism or close down the roads,” said Khan. He was referring to protesters blocking a highway linking the capital Islamabad with garrison city of Rawalpindi. Many parts of Karachi were paralysed due to the protests and most of the main roads were shut down by the protesters who were burning tyres and pelting stones at vehicles.
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The prime minister also held a meeting with Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and discussed the security situation in the country. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry tweeted that Khan and Bajwa “discussed overall situation and important affairs during the meeting.” Gen Bajwa was also targeted by a protest leader who in a video message asked senior army officers to rebel against the army chief.
Khan appealed to the public to remain calm and refrain from joining those trying to create law and order problem in the name of Islam. The prime minister said that he was forced to give the address after the reaction by protestors against the verdict and the kind of language they were using against State institutions. Khan also played a video clip of a leader of protestors on social media in which he said that the judges who gave the verdict were liable to murder.
“How a State can function in such circumstances…Those involved in this are not doing any service to Islam. They are in fact enemies of Islam,” Khan said. Referring to the protesters who have disrupted routine life across the country, he said: “If the Supreme Court does not issue a verdict according to their wishes, will they come out on the roads?” Khan also said Pakistan was created in the name of Islam and no law can be made against the teachings of Islam.
Defending the Supreme Court verdict, Khan said it was issued in the light of the Constitution of the country which is also based on Islam. He said the government was working hard to improve the economy and the protestors were creating hurdles to get political mileage out of the verdict. “We are already facing such tough economic hurdles. We have yet to take a day off… we are struggling continuously to uplift the people [and] to improve the conditions of the underprivileged,” he said. “The people are to bear the brunt of this. The labours who are reliant on daily wages… how will they survive?” he asked.
Bibi was the first woman who was given death sentence under the blasphemy laws. According to officials, Bibi might be flown out of Pakistan due to the threat to her life. It is not clear where she will go as several countries, including Canada, have offered asylum to her.
(Inputs from PTI)