Countrywide protests raged in Pakistan on Thursday against the acquittal of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for committing blasphemy entered the second day despite Prime Minister Imran Khan's warning to defiant hardliners.
Supporters of Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan protest against the court decision to overturn the conviction of Christian woman Asia Bibi.
The release of a Christian woman in Pakistan who was acquitted eight years after being sentenced to death for blasphemy was apparently delayed on Friday, after talks failed between the government and hardline religious groups who want her publicly hanged.
Bibi was condemned under an article added to the Pakistan Penal Code following independence stating: 'Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine'. Hundreds also blocked another key motorway, linking Islamabad with other major cities.
Asia's husband Ashiq Masih said on Wednesday: 'I am very happy.
Riots break out various parts of the country after the supreme court announced the verdict. She had been in jail ever since, most of this time in solitary confinement.
In Pakistan, even a hint of the word blasphemy can mean death- either by mob justice like lynchings, or in the courts where if convicted the punishment can be the death penalty. Bibi told AFP by phone from prison after the ruling.
"[The protesters] are inciting you for their own political gain, you should not get trapped by them for the sake of the country, they are doing no service to Islam", Khan said in a televised broadcast.More news: Khashoggi's body was 'dissolved' after murder
The case led to the murder of a prominent governor, Salmaan Taseer, when he spoke out in defense of Bibi and against blasphemy laws in 2011. "Her conviction is set aside", said Pakistan's Chief Justice Saqib Nisar in the ruling.
Later on Friday, telephone networks were down in the capital, Islamabad, and the eastern city of Lahore, where pockets of TLP protesters blocked main roads. Allegedly, two Muslim women refused to touch the container after Bibi, saying that it was unclean because of her religion- Bibi is a member of Pakistan's Catholic minority.
Also, a lawyer representing a local cleric who had raised the initial blasphemy charges against Asia Bibi petitioned the Supreme Court on Thursday to reverse its acquittal.
In Lahore, Khadim Rizvi, the firebrand leader of Islamist group Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasoolullah (TLY), led a large group of protesters outside the provincial assembly building to protest the ruling. The following year she was sentenced to death. Groups supporting the blasphemy law immediately took to the streets to protest the decision, and have threatened judges of the supreme court, government officials, and military leadership with violent reprisals.
Given the hostility and threats in response to today's verdict, it is likely that Bibi and her family will need to seek asylum in another country.
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.
The protests come despite a warning from Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday that demonstrators would not be allowed to damage property or block traffic. They said the men were still being questioned.