Fanatics in Pakistan protest acquittal of Christian woman

Supporters Pakistani religious party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam rally near the Parliament to condemn a Supreme Court decision that acquitted Asia Bibi, in Islamabad, Pakistan
Supporters Pakistani religious party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam rally near the Parliament to condemn a Supreme Court decision that acquitted Asia Bibi, in Islamabad, Pakistan

Protests by radical Islamists have apparently delayed the release of a Christian woman in Pakistan who was acquitted eight years after being sentenced to death for blasphemy.

Islamists who want Asia Bibi publicly hanged held rallies across Pakistan on Friday to denounce Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling that overturned her 2010 conviction for insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

Asia Bibi, who has been on death row for six years

Asia Bibi, who has been on death row for six years

Her family have always said she never insulted Islam’s prophet.

Since the landmark ruling, radical Islamists have blocked major roads and damaged or set fire to dozens of vehicles to pressure the government to stop Ms Bibi’s release from an undisclosed detention facility.

On Friday, 5,000 Islamists rallied in the capital Islamabad and nearly 4,000 staged a sit-in in Lahore, demanding that the verdict be overturned.

Similar rallies were also held in the north-western city of Peshawar.

More than 2,000 demonstrators blocked a key road linking Islamabad with the garrison city of Rawalpindi, causing traffic jams.

Hundreds also blocked another key motorway connecting Islamabad with other major cities.

No violence was reported during the rallies.

On Thursday, a lawyer representing a local cleric who had raised the initial blasphemy charges against Ms Bibi petitioned the Supreme Court to reverse its acquittal.

The court has set no dates to take up the petition, but Ms Bibi’s release could be further delayed by the process. Pakistan’s Supreme Court has not been known to reverse decisions but court reviews typically take years.

Pakistan shut down schools and colleges after cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the leader of Tehreek-e-Labbaik party, announced that “talks” between his deputies and the government about Ms Bibi’s fate had failed.

Before dawn on Friday, Mr Rizvi told an emotionally-charged rally in Lahore: “We are ready to die to show our love for the prophet.”

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

On Thursday, prison officials said two inmates were arrested last month for planning to kill Ms Bibi by strangling her.

They said the men were still being questioned.

Bibi’s family had expected her release by Thursday night.

Her husband Ashiq Masih returned from Britain with their children in mid-October and was waiting for her release so they can fly out of Pakistan.

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