|The Independent|AIWA! NO!|A Christian woman who spent eight years on death row in Pakistan on blasphemy charges has been acquitted — prompting street protests from Islamists furious at the verdict.
The country’s top court ordered Asia Bibi be released in what human rights advocates are hailing as a landmark ruling for religious freedom.
The charges date from 2009 when the farm labourer fetched water for her fellow workers. After sipping from a cup, two Muslim women refused to drink from a vessel used by a Christian and demanded she converted to Islam.
When she refused, a mob to later accused her of blasphemy by insulting the prophet Mohammed. She was subsequently convicted and sentenced to death in 2010.
Ms Bibi’s family have maintained that she never insulted the prophet and in previous hearings her lawyer pointed to contradictions in testimony from witnesses.
The case outraged Christians worldwide and been a source of division within Pakistan, where two politicians who tried to help her were assassinated.
Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar cited the Quran in his ruling, writing: “Tolerance is the basic principle of Islam,” and noting the religion condemns injustice and oppression.
Ms Bibi, who has been held at a secret location for security reasons, is now expected to leave the country.
Her husband, Ashiq Masih, hailed the verdict: “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.”
Her lawyer, Saiful Mulook, called the court ruling “great news” for Pakistan.
“Asia Bibi has finally been served justice,” he added. ”Pakistan’s Supreme Court must be appreciated that it upheld the law of the land and didn’t succumb to any pressure.”
However, the Islamist Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) party called for people to take to the streets, and demanded that the judges who were involved in overturning the sentence be killed.
The party was founded from a movement supporting a bodyguard who assassinated Lahore provincial governor Salman Taseer for advocating for Ms Bibi in 2011. Federal minister for religion Shahbaz Bhatti was also killed after calling for her release.
The TLP’s leader also called for Imran Khan’s government to intervene.
“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,” party spokesperson Ejaz Ashrafi said.
Streets were blocked in major cities as protesters condemned the ruling, paralysing parts of Islamabad, Lahore and other cities.
NEW YORK: Leading American newspaper, the New York Times, on Saturday hailed Imran Khan’s “impressive” election victory and urged the United States (US), China and India to create ease in his way towards reforming Pakistan.
Imran Khan, the winner
“His (Imran Khan’s) main call is to reform Pakistan’s woeful governance and put an end to the patronage networks that have facilitated widespread graft,” the New York Times said in its main editorial: ‘A New Batsman for Pakistan’.
“In a country as corrupt and troubled as Pakistan, a new, charismatic leader is bound to raise hopes; whether Mr Khan can deliver is a far different question,” the Times said.
It added, “Imran Khan, the cricketer who led Pakistan to a glorious World Cup victory over its former colonial ruler, England, a quarter century ago, led his political party to an equally impressive victory in Pakistan’s national elections this week.”
Imran Khan gave a televised speech from his home in which he claimed victory
Noting that Pakistan’s woes were many and grave, it said that corruption runs deep as the last prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, was imprisoned two weeks ago. “The national debt is ballooning; the electricity grid is disintegrating and jobs are so scarce that Pakistani workers are compelled to fan out across the Middle East to take whatever work they can find. “On top of that, terrorists strike often, relations with the United States are bad and politics are chronically unstable …”, the editorial added.
Although his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party did not win enough seats in parliament to form a government alone, the Times said, it “still scored big not only in the national parliament but also in regional races across the country, a rare feat in Pakistani politics, giving Mr Khan, 65, considerable leverage to pursue his goals. Those (tasks) he listed in his victory address were a catalogue of what urgently needs to be done.”
In foreign affairs, the paper noted Imran Khan’s desire to seek to improved relations with the US, whose policies in the region he has fiercely criticised. “Mr Khan also pledged to seek an end to the territorial dispute with India over Kashmir, which has long set the neighbours at loggerheads, and to further improve relations with China, Pakistan’s major creditor”.
“How far Mr Khan can go in changing Pakistan’s political culture, helping the poor and fixing foreign relations will depend on many factors, including what coalition he cobbles together and how he manages a rapidly swelling debt,” it added.
Calling him “indisputably charming and charismatic”, the editorial said, “In the end, Mr Khan offers a chance of change, however remote, for a country in dire need of it”.
“Any degree of success would benefit not only the Pakistanis, but also their neighbours and creditors, and the US, which, for better or for worse, is tied to Pakistan in its struggle “against extremism”. It would be wise for the Trump administration, as well as for India and China, to do what they can to ease Mr Khan’s way,” the newspaper concluded.
ISLAMABAD (AFP) — Pakistan’s main parties rejected the outcome of elections won by cricket star Imran Khan and announced protests demanding new polls Friday, after foreign observers criticized the pivotal vote over rigging allegations.
The announcement by the All Parties Conference (APC), including the outgoing Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), is a fresh obstacle to power for Khan on a day when delayed results finally showed he had won an emphatic victory — though he will need to seek a coalition to form a government.
The nationwide election held Wednesday has been criticized by the United States, the European Union and other observers after widespread claims that the powerful military was trying to fix the playing field in Khan’s favor.
It had been dubbed “Pakistan’s dirtiest election” but for now, Khan’s victory represents an end to decades of rotating leadership between the PML-N and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) that was punctuated by periods of military rule.
The PML-N and other parties have alleged “blatant” rigging over the vote count.
“We think a robbery has been committed,” Maulana Fazalur Rehman, head of the religious Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) party, told reporters.
“We will run a movement for the holding of elections again. There will be protests… We will not allow democracy to be taken hostage by the establishment,” he said, using a word widely understood in Pakistan to mean the military.
The PML-N, which claims it was the target of military manipulation, said it would join in the protests although no date was immediately announced.
“I fully agree with it. The worst kind of irregularities have been committed, which are unprecedented,” party leader Shahbaz Sharif said.
However, Sharif said he would need to consult with his party’s leadership over a decision by the APC not to take the oath swearing in members of parliament.
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which has won the third largest number of seats in the vote, was notably absent from the APC.
In a later press conference, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said his party also rejected the election results, but vowed it would try to convince the other parties to participate in the parliamentary process.
The vote was meant to be a rare democratic transition in the Muslim country, which has been ruled by the powerful army for roughly half its history.
But it was marred by violence and allegations of military interference in the months leading up to the vote, with Khan seen as the beneficiary.
EU observer mission chief Michael Gahler pointed to a “systematic effort to undermine the former ruling party through cases of corruption, contempt of court and terrorist charges against its leaders and candidates.”
The United States said it was concerned about “flaws” in the pre-electoral process, but was ready to work with the new government.
Heather Nauert, spokeswoman for the US State Department, said Washington agreed with the EU’s observation that “positive changes to the legal framework for elections in Pakistan” were eclipsed by “restrictions on freedom of expression and unequal campaign opportunities.”
The Election Commission (ECP) said Friday that with only a handful of seats left to count, Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) will be the biggest party in parliament.
But the count indicates PTI will not achieve the 137 seats needed in the National Assembly to form a majority government.
Analyst Ayesha Siddiqa said observers may have underestimated the depth of feeling among Pakistan’s growing middle class.
“Remember, they grew up on this narrative of a corrupt Pakistan being damaged and needing a new leadership… In all this hue and cry, we didn’t notice there is another Pakistan there that wanted this change,” she told AFP.
Khan campaigned on promises to end widespread graft while building an “Islamic welfare state.”
Now, the former World Cup cricket champion will have to partner with independents and smaller parties, a task analysts said should be straightforward.
“The independents know that the establishment is inclined toward Imran Khan,” retired general and analyst Talat Masood told AFP.
Balance of power
Khan claimed victory in a wide-ranging address to the nation Thursday.
He vowed to tackle corruption and touched on promises to balance relations with the US, while saying he was open to discussions with arch-rival India, including over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.
Khan will face myriad challenges, including militant extremism, an economic crisis with speculation that Pakistan will have to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund, water shortages and a booming population.
He will also have to contend with the same issue as many of his predecessors: how to maintain a balance of power in civil-military relations.
In the West, Khan is typically seen through the prism of his celebrity and high-profile romances, but at home he cuts a more conservative persona as a devout Muslim who believes feminism has degraded motherhood.
Known in Pakistan as “Taliban Khan” for his calls to hold talks with insurgents, he increasingly catered to religious hardliners during the campaign, spurring fears his leadership could embolden extremists.