The victory of Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi in the Supreme Court has sparked nationwide protests, led by supporters of the Islamist political party Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP).
TLP, which stands for the “Here-I-Am Movement”, is a rising party known for organising street protests in opposition to any changes to the blasphemy law.
Last night the government met for talks with the TLP leadership, but failed to reach an agreement. Afterwards, the government announced late at night that mobile phone services would be suspended today, 2 November.
The country is still paralysed – schools are shut, universities have postponed exams, flights have been delayed and trains have changed their routes due to the protests, while several major roads have been blocked across the country.
There have also been unconfirmed reports of protesters clashing with police.
مولانا فضل الرحمان صاحب کی قیادت میں پشاور میں پُرامن مظاہرہ
نہ کسی کی گاڑی جلائی کہ کسی کو نقصان پہنچایا
باقی سب سے بھی درخواست ہے کہ احتجاج کریں لیکن کسی کے جان و مال کو نقصان مت پہنچائیں pic.twitter.com/XFgarW89l3
— جنجوعہ پاکستانی (@UsmanJanjua01) November 2, 2018
Islamabad F-6 pic.twitter.com/OhVCgecxf4
— omar r quraishi (@omar_quraishi) November 2, 2018
شیخوپورہ میں عوام کا جم غفیر اب یہ تحریک چل پڑی ہے یہ مقدس تحریک ہے
تحفظ ناموس رسالتﷺ کیلئے، کے لئے جان قربان کردیں گے مگر پیچھے نہیں ہٹیں گے۔ ان شااللہ pic.twitter.com/QlZD1YnZlj
— شیخوپورہ کا لیگی (@SheikhRashid550) November 2, 2018
At around 8pm local time, the so-called “Father of the Taliban”, Maulana Sami ul Haq, was stabbed in his own home in the Pakistan city of Rawalpindi. The mullah had been one of the leading voices calling for the reversal of the Supreme Court’s decision, and though no group has yet claimed responsibility, his death has further heightened fears of spiraling retaliatory violence.
Recently Afghan officials had reached out to Sami ul Haq asking him to help convince the Taliban to begin peace negotiations, so his murder, apparently by people who had access to him, may have been related to issues other than Asia Bibi’s case.
“These people have gathered to demand that Asia Bibi be hanged,” Lahore-based journalist Asif Aqeel told World Watch Monitor. “They have also damaged property across the country. Buses, rickshaws, motorcycles are burnt and shops are looted and ransacked.”
Some sources reported that Asia Bibi will fly abroad within 24 hours and that she has already been reunited with her family.
However, following the Supreme Court verdict, the man who filed the initial complaint against her in 2009 – the local village imam – has petitioned for a judicial review of this decision. The TLP has requested that until the review takes place – usually within 30 days – her name be added to the Exit Control List (ECL) so that she be banned from leaving the country.
The Pakistani government had earlier announced on its Twitter account that it did not intend to add her name to the list, but by late in the day had apparently reversed that – at least until the outcome of the judicial review – in order to defuse the tense situation in the country, according to Punjab’s information minister Fayaz ul Hassan Chuhan. This was after talks between the government and the TLP.
(On Tuesday, the day before the Supreme Court announced its verdict, a previous application to put Asia Bibi on the ECL list had already been rejected because that verdict had not yet been made public.)
Federal Government has no plan to put Aasia Bibi’s name on ECL or appeal for a review against the court’s verdict. A review petition is been filed by the concerned party which has nothing to do with the government.
— PTI (@PTIofficial) November 1, 2018
Even before the Supreme Court’s decision was made public, in a press conference aired on YouTube the TLP warned the judges they would meet a horrible end if they were to free Asia.
Asia Bibi’s defence lawyer Saif ul-Malook said after the verdict that he feared he could no longer live in Pakistan himself. However, he said, the risks have been worth the reward.
“I think it’s better to die as a brave and strong man than to die as a mouse and fearful person,” he told AFP. “I extend my legal help to all people.”
The country’s Christian minority (around 2% of the population) are especially concerned about potential repercussions, with reports that churches are now “on alert” and Christians are trying to keep a low profile.
“Today Christians across Pakistan are holed up in their homes,” one source said. “TV provides no comfort, news is conflicting and complex on all fronts and phones are down. We are all so worried about one another. There is a huge operation against the extremists but still no assurance on Asia and her family and their future.”