Talking tough, Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan Wednesday told hardliners not to “confront the State” and refrain from vandalism after the Supreme Court acquitted a Christian woman was sentenced to death for committing blasphemy.
Imran addressed the nation via a video message where the prime minister solely focussed on the Asia Bibi verdict. The message was broadcast on state-run PTV, Dawn reported. He said he had been “compelled” to communicate with the nation due to the reaction and the language used by a “small segment” in response to the Supreme Court verdict.
Bibi, a 47-year-old mother of four, who was on a death row for eight years for blasphemy, was acquitted by the apex court in a landmark verdict which evoked protests, death threats from hardline groups and cheers from human rights advocates.
Imran sharply criticized the protests that are still underway across the country in response to the judgment, saying people’s livelihood was being harmed through the roadblocks and demonstrations. Many parts of Karachi were paralyzed due to the protests and most of the main roads were shut down by the protesters who are burning tires and pelting stones at vehicles.
“I ask these elements (protestors) to avoid confronting the State. But if they opted to do so, the State will fulfill its responsibilities,” Khan said.
“We will protect the life and property of people…We will not let them (protestors) involve in vandalism or close down the roads,” he said, referring to protestors blocking a highway linking the capital Islamabad with garrison city of Rawalpindi.
Referring to the protesters he said: “If the Supreme Court does not issue a verdict according to their wishes, will they come out on the roads?”
Khan appealed to the public to remain calm and refrain from joining those trying to create law and order problem in the name of Islam.
Khan also slammed a leader of protesters, who in a video clip shared on social media said that the judges who gave the verdict should be killed. “How can a State function in such circumstances…Those involved in this are not doing any service to Islam. They are in fact enemies of Islam,” Khan said.
The prime minister also said Pakistan was created in the name of Islam and no law can be made against the teachings of Islam. He said the verdict was issued in the light of the Constitution of the country which is also based on Islam.
He said the government was working hard to improve the economy and the protestors were creating hurdles to get political mileage out of the verdict. “We are already facing such tough economic hurdles. We have yet to take a day off… we are struggling continuously to uplift the people [and] to improve the conditions of the underprivileged,” he said.
“The people are to bear the brunt of this. The labors who are reliant on daily wages… how will they survive?” he asked.
Imran held a meeting with Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and discussed the security situation in the country due to the protest of the verdict. Information minister Fawad Chaudhry tweeted that Khan and Bajwa “discussed the overall situation and important affairs during the meeting.”
General Bajwa was also targeted by a protest leader who in a video message asked senior army officers to rebel against the army chief.
Bibi was accused of committing blasphemy in 2009.
She was convicted by the trial court in 2010 after being accused of insulting Islam in a row with her neighbors. Her death sentence was maintained by the Lahore High Court in 2014. She always maintained her innocence but has spent most of the past eight years in solitary confinement. She appealed against the conviction in the Supreme Court, which for the first time heard the case in July 2015.
Bibi was the first woman who was given a death sentence under the blasphemy laws. According to officials, Bibi might be flown out of Pakistan due to the threat to her life. It is not clear where she will go, as several countries, including Canada, have offered asylum to her.