By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (ANS – November 29, 2017) — Protesters in Pakistan, some of whom have called for the immediate hanging of Asia Bibi, the Pakistani mother-of-five who was sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy – a charge she has consistently denied — are now dispersing after the country’s law minister Zahid Hamid resigned under pressure following weekend clashes that killed two people.
“For weeks, protesters have been demanding Hamid’s resignation because they claimed a change in the wording of the oath of office weakened rules requiring lawmakers to reference the Prophet Mohammed,” said Sophia Saifi in a story for CNN.
“The government has apologized and denied making the changes, calling them clerical mistakes.”
She went on to say that the issue came to a head on the weekend, when the government called in Pakistan’s armed paramilitary force to remove protesters who’ve been blocking a key road between Islamabad and the neighboring city of Rawalpindi.
Law enforcement moved in to break up the crowd Saturday following the expiration of a Thursday deadline to disperse issued by Pakistan Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal.
Video from the scene showed officers carrying sticks and firing tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters. Groups of protesters could be seen throwing rocks with their hands or using slingshots.
At least two people have died, and more than 250 others were injured in street demonstrations, according to hospital officials.
Accusations of blasphemy
The CNN journalist said that for more than two weeks, the protesters had focused their ire on a proposed legislative change they claimed would soften electoral laws.
“Prompted by radical Islamists, the demonstrators claim the proposed bill was blasphemous because they weakened rules requiring politicians to properly reference the Prophet Mohammed,” she said.
“Under pressure to appease the protesters, Hamid over the weekend released a video that was shared on social media in which he read the oath and said that he loved the Prophet ‘from the depth of my heart,’ adding that he and his family were ‘prepared to lay down our lives for the honor and sanctity,’ of Islam’s holy Prophet.”
The protesters have largely been spurred by Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the leader of Tehreek-e Labbaik Pakistan, a hardline Islamist movement.
Speaking to a crowd of protesters on Monday, Rizvi issued a set of demands, including calling on the government to release all protesters who’d been detained by security forces since demonstrations began on November 6.
He said only when that happens will he call off the protests. He gave the government 12 hours to meet his conditions, but already, crowds were dispersing.
Allegations of blasphemy have incited violence in Pakistan in the past. In June this year a 30-year-old man was sentenced to death over a series of Facebook posts that were deemed to use “derogatory remarks … in respect of the Holy Prophet.”
In March 2017, the Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said that “nothing can be greater than our religion to us” when discussing purportedly blasphemous content online.
Still no justice for Asia Bibi
Meanwhile, there is still no justice for Asia Bibi, the Pakistan Christian mother-of-five from rural Punjab province, as the Supreme Court appeal hearing against her death sentence that was due to take place on Thursday, October 13, 2016, and which lasted all of two minutes, was adjourned for an indefinite period.
So now, Ms. Bibi, must wait once again to learn if she will be spared the gallows after the country’s top court adjourned amid tense scenes and heightened security in Islamabad.
The shocking postponement of her high-profile case, which has drawn world-wide attention, came about after Justice Iqbal Hameed-ur-Rehman abstained from the three-member bench, who were supposed to hear her appeal, when he told the court, “I was a member of the bench hearing the case of Salman Taseer (the then Governor of Punjab who was murdered for his support of Asia Bibi) and this case is related to that.” He then withdrew and the hearing was adjourned.
Now a new judge will have to be appointed, and there is no indication that this will take place soon.
In a case that has drawn international outrage, Ms. Bibi was convicted in 2010 for defaming the Prophet Mohammad during an argument with a group of Muslim women over a bowl of water. Not only did she deny that she ever made the alleged blasphemous remarks, but she has also stated that she had “great respect and honor for the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and the Holy Quran.”
Asia Bibi has been on death row since her 2010 conviction. Appeals at lower courts have all failed, before the country’s top court temporarily suspended her sentence in July 2015. If she is executed, she will be the first person to ever be hanged under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws. Her case has exposed deep fractures over blasphemy laws in the highly conservative Muslim state.
According to UK-based newspaper, The Telegraph, Justice Iqbal Hameed-ur-Rehman was appointed to the supreme court in 2013, and led an inquiry into the deaths of eight Christians in Punjab’s Gojra riots in 2009, which were sparked by false blasphemy allegations.
Activists say Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are often used to persecute or settle private vendettas against the country’s vulnerable Christian minority.
So once again, we see another example of so-called Pakistan justice with Asia Bibi still incarcerated and held in solitary confinement after all these years for the “crime” of speaking out for Jesus. So, I ask you to please pray that she will not lose hope and that, one day soon, she will be pardoned and freed.
Photo captions: 1) Sunni Muslims call for the death of Asia Bibi (EPA). 2) A Pakistani protester throws a tear gas shell back towards police during a clash in Islamabad on November 25, 2017. 3) Asia Bibi during better days with two of her daughters. 4) Pakistani policemen carry an injured colleague during a clash with activists during a protest in Islamabad on November 25, 2017. 5) Dan Wooding with his BPCA for his long-standing reporting on the persecution of Pakistani Christians.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 76, is an award-winning author, broadcaster and journalist, who was born in Nigeria, West Africa, of British missionary parents, Alfred and Anne Wooding, who then worked with the Sudan Interior Mission, now known as SIM. Dan now lives in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for some 54 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder/president of the ASSIST News Service (ANS), and is also the author of numerous books. He has a radio show and two television programs, all based in Southern California. Dan has received numerous awards for his journalistic work on behalf of Persecuted Christians, the most recent was in Beverly Hills, California, where at an international film festival, he was presented with a top humanitarian award by his son, Peter Wooding, before some 500 Hollywood luminaries. He has also received an award from the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) for his long-standing reporting of the persecution of Pakistani Christians.
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