Saturday, 3 November 2018

Hardline Islamists In Pakistan Call For Death Of Judges Who Overturned Christian

A hard-line Islamist party in Pakistan has called for the death of the judges who overturned the death sentence of a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy. Asia Bibi was sentenced to death in 2010 on blasphemy charges. She had gone to fetch water for herself and fellow farm workers on a hot day the previous year, but two Muslim women had refused to drink from the same container and she was accused by a mob of blasphemy. She was convicted and sentenced to death, but in a landmark ruling Pakistan’s top court has now acquitted Ms Bibi and order she be released.The judgement has sparked a backlash from hardline Islamists who have called for the death of the chief justice of the Supreme Court and two other judges behind the ruling. The leader of the Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) party, which has launched street protests in reaction to the ruling, also called for Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government to be ousted over the case. Party spokesman Ejaz Ashrafi said: “The patron in chief of TLP, Muhammad Afzal Qadri, has issued the edict that says the chief justice and all those who ordered the release of Asia deserve death.” Paramilitary troops have been deployed in Islamabad to prevent protesters from reaching the Supreme Court, where security has been stepped up up to protect the judges and authorities have also put security in place at churches around the country. It is not the first time the case has sparked violence in the country. In 2011 Punjab province governor Salman Taseer was shot and killed by one of his guards for defending Ms Bibi and criticising the misuse of the blasphemy law. Mumtaz Qadri was hanged for the killing but has been hailed a martyr by hardliners. Her husband Ashiq Masih said: “I am very happy. My children are very happy. We are grateful to God. We are grateful to the judges for giving us justice. We knew that she is innocent.” Asia Bibi, the Christian woman facing execution for blasphemy in Pakistan, has had her conviction overturned by the country's highest court. In a ruling that will anger the country's Islamic hardliners, Mrs Bibi, 47, was told she would no longer face the gallows after nearly a decade on death row. The mother-of-four was convicted in 2010 of defaming the Prophet Mohammad during a row with Muslim women over drinking water as they picked berries in their village. Her plight led to international condemnation of Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws, with Pope Benedict XVI publicly calling for the charges against her to be dismissed. Militant Islamic clerics, however, put a 5,000 Euro bounty on her head, while two prominent liberal Pakistani politicians who came to her defence have also been assassinated. Mrs Bibi appeared to be in state of disbelief after hearing the decision from her lawyer. "I can't believe what I am hearing, will i go out now? Will they let me out, really?" Bibi told AFP by phone from prison after the ruling on Wednesday. "I just don't know what to say, I am very happy, I can't believe it." The ruling was welcomed by Mrs Bibi's family, who have spent years in hiding as a result of death threats over the case. Asia Bibi’s daughter, 18-year-old Eisham Ashiq, said: “This is the most wonderful moment in my life. I want to thank God. “I want to hug my mother and then celebrate with my family. I am grateful to God for listening to our prayers.” “We are very happy," added her husband Ashiq Masih in a statement via the Christian charity Aid to the Church in Need. The former brickmaker said: “We thank God very much that he’s heard our prayers – and the prayers of so many people who have longed for Asia Bibi’s release over all these years of suffering and anguish.” An illiterate farm worker, Mrs Bibi scraped a living as a labourer and fruit picker in Ittan Wali, a village in the Punjab that was home to just three other Christian families. One hot day in June 2009, she went to pick berries on a farm with a number of Muslim women neighbours, who asked her to fetch them a bucket of drinking water from a well. One of them then complained that Mrs Bibi had already drunk several times from the bucket with a metal cup, saying "This Christian has dirtied the water". Heated words were then exchanged, during which Mrs Bibi is alleged to have told her neighbours: "Jesus Christ died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind?" Mrs Bibi claims the neighbours returned the insults in kind, saying Jesus was "a bastard" without a proper father. Her neighbours then attacked her mob-handed, spitting in her face and beating her in front of her nine-year-old daughter, Eisham. "I was also beaten badly by the crowd - it was terrifying," Eisham, now 18, told The Telegraph. "All my mother had done was take a drink of water because she was thirsty." The following day, a much larger crowd dragged her to a village mullah, who told her she had to either convert to Islam or die. She was then beaten almost unconscious with sticks before being thrown in jail, where she was sentenced 17 months later to death by hanging. But the panel of three supreme court justices allowed her appeal after finding flaws in her conviction. "She has been acquitted. The judgement of high court as well as trial court is reversed. Her conviction is set aside," said Pakistan's Chief Justice Saqib Nisar in the ruling. Critics of Pakistan's blasphemy laws have long claimed that they are open to abuse, and often used by accusers simply to settle petty scores or oppress religious minorities.Since her conviction, Mrs Bibi has spent her time in a filthy, 6ft by 9ft death row cell where she lives in fear of attack from other inmates. Her own jailers, she claims, have laughingly told her that she "deserves to swing". "I have been to visit my mother in jail, and she asks the people of Britain to remember her in their prayers," Eisham added. "She needs to be back with her family." The case has become a major flashpoint in Pakistan between its powerful hardline religious lobby and more Western-minded politicians. In 2011, the liberal governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, and the Minister for Minorities Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, were both murdered for speaking out on Mrs Bibi's behalf and calling for reform of the blasphemy laws. The bodyguard who killed Mr Taseer, Mumtaz Qadri, was later executed but became a posthumous hero among hardliners. Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan, the party that has threatened the judges in Mrs Bibis’ case, was set up in his honour.

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