Following a decision last week by Pakistan’s Supreme Court to reserve judgement in the appeal of Asia Bibi – a woman on death row for ‘blasphemy’ – warnings have been sounded that ‘terrible consequence’ would be suffered by the government and the judiciary if she were to be freed.
The warning comes from Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a hardline religious organisation-turned-political party. According to this report, its spokesperson, Ejaz Ahmad, said
This is a religious matter. The Christian lady has committed blasphemy and admitted of using derogatory language against Prophet Muhammad. According to Islamic law, it is not permitted to pardon her. We cannot allow this to happen. We will raise our voice and launch protests throughout the country.
Meanwhile another religious group, the Red Mosque in Islamabad, asked the Supreme Court to order that, if Asia Bibi is released, she should be prevented from leaving the country. The petitioner, Hafiz Ihtesham Ahmed, said:
Western forces are trying to get Asia Bibi out of the country but she should be hanged.
It is not known when the high court will announce its final verdict about the defendant.
TLP is a staunch supporter of the blasphemy law and openly justify violence to safeguard what they call the honor of the prophet.
Khadim Rizvi, TLP’s founder, has repeatedly vowed not to spare anyone charged with committing blasphemy against the prophet.
Rights activists in Pakistan say the government is ignoring radical Islamist elements who issue inflammatory statements on the highly sensitive and controversial issue of blasphemy.
Zohra Yusuf, a Pakidtani human rights activist, said:
When Asia Bibi’s case is in the Supreme Court, how can anyone belonging to any political party give such rash and non-serious statements? I believe both the government and the judiciary should take notice of this.
Due to such radical elements in our society, it has become harder for the minorities to survive or to feel safe. These irresponsible statements further destroy the social fabric of this country.
Mehdi Hassan, a Pakistan-based analyst, agrees with Yusuf’s concerns and says the government needs to hold those who try to divide the nation accountable.
The political parties should address the blasphemy problem and play a role because democracy gives a level playing field to everyone.
He accused political parties such as the TLP of:
Further politicising and fanning religious intolerance through Asia Bibi’s case. Where is the government and why they are not taking any action against these open threats?
Blasphemy remains a highly sensitive topic in Pakistan, where strong religious sentiments have led to mob violence and killings in the past. Rights activists also point towards the history of settling personal vendettas and disputes through the controversial blasphemy law.
Asia Bibi, 53, was accused of committing blasphemy and using defamatory language about Islam’s Prophet Muhammad in 2009 when she got into an argument with some Muslim women while working in a field in Punjab province.
The mother of five was sentenced to death in 2010 on blasphemy charges. The decision was upheld by the Lahore High Court in 2014 and was then referred to the country’s Supreme Court in 2015 for a final appeal.
Two prominent Pakistani politicians were gunned down after they demanded reform to the country’s controversial blasphemy laws in 2011 following Asia Bibi’s death sentence.
In 2011, Salman Taseer, Punjab’s governor, was killed by his bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri in broad daylight. Qadri furious over Taseer’s demand for blasphemy law reforms.
Qadri was hanged by the Pakistani government in February 2017. Since then, his grave has turned into a shrine by supporters of his ideology.
Qadri is praised as a hero by TLP Pakistan, the newly emerged religious party that has openly vowed to follow Qadri’s legacy of not sparing anyone charged with committing blasphemy.
TLP was established in 2017 and came into prominence in Pakistan’s July election after securing over two million votes and two provincial assembly seats in the country’s Sindh province.
The party has a history of launching countrywide protests on blasphemy related issues.
Earlier in August, thousands of TLP protesters began a march from Lahore to Islamabad demanding the severing of diplomatic ties with the Netherlands and expelling of its ambassador to Pakistan after Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders announced a Prophet Mohammed cartoon contest, which was then cancelled.