Pakistan: Blasphemy protests called off after government deal

Pakistan’s far-right Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party has called off protests against the acquittal of a Christian woman accused of blasphemy which have rocked the Muslim-majority South Asian democracy in recent days.

TLP on Friday signed an agreement with the Pakistani government to end the demonstrations, which also involved a number of other religious parties, party spokesperson Zubair Kasuri told Al Jazeera by telephone from Lahore.

According to Kasuri, protesters will be granted legal amnesty under the terms of the deal and Aasia Bibi – the 53-year-old Christian woman at the centre of this week’s furore – will be placed on Pakistan’s Exit Control List.

This means she is effectively barred from leaving the country.

The agreement comes after three days of protests sparked by the landmark acquittal of Bibi by Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Wednesday.

In its judgement, the court declared  there were “glaring and stark” contradictions in the case against her.

The original complainant in the case, Muhammad Salim, has filed a review petition against the top court’s verdict, Kasuri said.

But according to Pakistani law, the grounds for review petitions are extremely narrow and such appeals are seldom upheld, meaning the court’s acquittal of Bibi is likely to stand.

High-profile case

Bibi had been on death row for eight years following her arrest in the central Pakistani village of Ithan Wali over an argument with two Muslim women, who refused to drink water from the same vessel as her due to her religion.

The women accused her of having insulted Islam’s Prophet Muhammad during the altercation, a charge Bibi has consistently denied.

Blasphemy is a sensitive subject in Pakistan, where the country’s strict laws prescribe a mandatory death penalty for some forms of the crime.

Increasingly, blasphemy allegations have led to murders and mob lynchings, with at least 74 people killed in such violence since 1990, according to an Al Jazeera tally.

Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim

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