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November 1, 2018

Protests against Aasia's acquittal: Section 144 imposed across country

Top Story

November 1, 2018

Ag Agencies

ISLAMABAD: Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) supporters took to the streets in several parts of the country on Wednesday, following a supreme court verdict acquitting Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death over blasphemy allegations.

Protests were being staged in different cities including Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, with major roads blocked. Following the protests, Section 144 was imposed across Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan barring the gathering of more than four persons in public places as well as pillion riding. Section 144 has been imposed from October 31 to November 10. In Lahore, the main protest led by TLP chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi was being staged at Charring Cross close to the Punjab Assembly. Cellular network services were suspended in several parts of the city.

According to the Safe City Authority, protests were being carried out at 25 different locations, effectively blocking roads and paralysing vehicular traffic across the city. The affected areas included Ferozpur Road, Ghazi Chowk, Ravi Road, Kahna Kachha, Chungi Amar Sidhu, Shahdara Chowk, Data Darbar, Boota Mahal Chowk, Raiwind Road, Babu Sabu Interchange and several other areas. The Lahore-Islamabad Motorway was blocked at Sheikhupura, while the main thoroughfare, the Grand Trunk Road, was also blocked.

In Islamabad, Faizabad, Aabpara, and Kashmir Highway adjacent to Aabpara were blocked by protesters.

Traffic was blocked at 14 points across Karachi by the protesters. Traffic was blocked at Do Talwar, Korangi, at two points at Shahrah-e-Faisal, Shahrah-e-Pakistan, Orangi Town, Numaish and Liaquatabad. In Peshwar, protests were being staged at the Ring Road, GT Road, Jamil Chowk and outside the Peshawar Press Club.

Protests were also being staged in Gujranwala, Layyah, Chishtian, Mansehra, Mirpur in Azad Kashmir and other cities.

Religious leaders have rejected the judgment of the supreme court exonerating Aasia Masih of charges against her, terming it unfortunate and violation of the Constitution of Pakistan. They demanded putting her name on the ECL to ward off attempts to extradite her to any western country. They warned of a tough agitation if the decision was not reversed.

Jamaat-e-Islami Ameer Senator Sirajul Haq said the Supreme Court decision of acquitting Aasia Masih was a gross violation of the law and justice, and had shocked the whole nation. He demanded putting Aasia’s name on the ECL to prevent her from fleeing the country before a decision of the review petition on this judgment. He warned that western powers were ready to airlift Aasia to some foreign destination.

In his response to the judgment, Siraj said Aasia had confessed to her crime before a trial court and the high court upheld the sentence. He asked why Aasia’s case had dragged on for 10 years while Shaheed Mumtaz Qadri’s case was decided in haste and he was executed.

Tanzim-e-Islami (TI) Ameer Hafiz Akif Saeed said the way the supreme court overturned the consensus decisions of the trial court and the Lahore High Court was a blatant desecration of all principles and requisites of justice. He said the religious emotions and sentiments of the Islamic world, particularly the Muslims of Pakistan had been trampled upon by this verdict.

Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) President Pir Ijaz Hashmi rejected the SC decision, terming it a violation of the Constitution of Pakistan. He said the court ignored the repeated confession of her crime by the accused and relied on her belated denial of the charge against her. He said the SC had deeply hurt the sentiments of the Muslim Ummah.

Milli Yakjehti Council (MYC) President Dr Abul Khair Muhammad Zubair has convened an emergency meeting of MYC component parties heads at Mansoora on Thursday (today) to evolve a joint strategy on the situation.

JI Secretary General Liaquat Baloch termed the acquittal of Aasia in conflict with the Constitution, Shariah as well as jurisprudence. He said the masses had rejected the court verdict and were still resenting the hasty execution of Mumtaz Qadri. He said the MYC would announce its reaction over the court decision after its meeting.

Jamaatud Dawah Ameer Hafiz Muhammad Saeed announced protests on Friday and said his party would move the court after consulting senior lawyers and reviewing legal aspects of the SC decision. He appealed to all communities of the society to get united for the protection of the honour of Holy Prophet (SAW).

Sunni Tehrik President Sarwat Ijaz Qadri said the SC decision was against the Constitution and aimed at pleasing western masters. He said there was a stark difference in the haste with which Mumtaz Qadri was convicted and executed and the ten years long delay in the case of Aasia Masih. He demanded putting her name on the ECL.

Meanwhile, a clash broke out between TLP activists and Tablighi Jamaat members on Motorway at Chakri Interchange, following which the two sides came to blows and attacked each other with stones and bricks.

Five to six buses of Tablighi Jamaat were on their way to Lahore when TLP protesters stopped them at Chakri Interchange. The members of the Tablighi Jamaat requested the protesters to let them go but they turned down their request. The protesters set five motorcycles and a Suzuki van on fire.

In Lahore, business activities remained suspended in as the traders were unable to reach their markets and shops due to protests by religious parties.

Besides, traders’ leaders of different markets of the Walled City also decided to close markets on a short notice after the SC verdict. They brought out rallies and chanted slogans against the government and judiciary asking them to review the decision and hang Aasia Bibi. All 21 blocks of Azam Cloth Market and Shah Alam Market observed shutdown. Other city markets which remained closed were Badami Bagh Auto Parts Market, Iron Market Misri Shah, Rang Mehal, Gold Market, Mochi Gate, Toys Market, Anarkali Bazaar, Urdu Bazaar, Circular Road, Gunpat Road, Paan Market, Plastic Dana Market, Medicine Market Lohari Gate, Hall Road, Beaden Road, Ichhra Market, Photo Goods Market, Nisbat Road, Hafeez Centre and Gulberg Board markets. All markets adjacent to Shalimar Link Road, Baghbanpura Bazaar, Mughalpura Bazaar and Sadar areas remained closed.

Demonstrations were held at Faisal Chowk, Qurtaba Chowk, Jail Road, Chungi Amar Sidhu, Azadi Flyover, Daroghawala Chowk, Shahdara Chowk, Kahna, Khayaban Chowk, Babu Sabu Chowk Motorway, Shadman Market, China Chowk, Imamia Colony Railway Phatak, Lahore Bridge Phatak, Kot Lakhpat, Peer Bahar Shah Chowk, Mohlanwal Chowk, Model Town Railway Phatak, Shahkam Chowk, Shimla Pahari, Lesco Office at Ichhra, Ferozepur Road, Liberty Chowk, Fowara Chowk, Model Town Link Road, Quaid-e-Azam Interchange, Harbanspura and Mughalpura Canal Road Underpass and Flyover.

Keeping in view the law and order situation, the Punjab government imposed Section 144 across the province and called out 18 companies of Rangers who were deputed at sensitive buildings and installations. The mobile phone service was suspended to control the situation. Heavy contingents of the Lahore police were also deputed at sensitive installations and major roads. The DIG Operations said nobody would be allowed to create law and order situation. He warned the trouble makers of stern action. The security of churches and missionary schools was beefed up.

The schools announced early closure but parents were stuck on roads. The students and their parents got panicked over the situation. Long queues of vehicles were witnessed on all major and minor roads. The protest demonstrations created chaos on main roads and the linking arteries. People coming from other cities were also stuck on roads for many hours.

The agitation led to abrupt suspension of the Lahore Metro Bus System including its feeder buses while the Lahore Transport Company suspended operations of its over 200 buses across the city.

Nasir Hussain, a spokesperson of the LTC, said the intra-city service was suspended as soon as reports of protests in different parts of the city emerged. Mujahid, at the helpline of the Lahore Metro Bus System, regretted the suspension of bus service.

The situation led to rumours vis-à-vis shortage of fuel in the days to come which resulted in long queues outside petrol stations in different areas of the city.

The Pakistan Railways also stopped trains at different stations in Lahore and Rawalpindi divisions to avert any untoward incident.

According to the Pakistan Railways Lahore Division spokesperson, Karachi-bound Tezgam from Rawalpindi and Allama Iqbal Express were stopped at Lahore Railway Station. Quetta Express coming from Quetta was stopped at Kot Lakhpat, Tezgam coming from Karachi at Raiwind and Green Line at Kot Radha Kishan. Jaffar Express coming from Rawalpindi was stopped at Sarai Alamgir, Rail Car at Lalamusa and Rawalpindi-bound Jaffar Express from Quetta was stopped at Kharian.

On the other hand, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has hailed the Supreme Court verdict as a landmark judgment.

The chairman of the Senate’s Functional Committee on Human Rights, Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, while commenting over the acquittal of Aasia, said: “It is indeed remarkable and we stand by the supreme court. The state must not bow to the extremist forces. “Aasia’s case is a clear example of how extremist forces misuse the name of Islam”, said Senator Khokhar in a statement issued after the SC judgment. He said, “If we want to save Pakistan from going down the path of bigotry, we must stop misuse of religion.”

He added, “Today, Aasia is free because justice was dispensed wisely and without any fear. This should be the practice in all such cases. Innocent people should not suffer incarcerations due to the fear of backlash.”

Civil society organisations welcomed the Supreme Court judgment and termed it victory of the rule of law.

Abdullah Malik, a human rights activist, said the judges always passed their verdict on the basis of solid evidence, not on the basis of emotions. The verdict shows that the judiciary in Pakistan was free.

An NGO in the field of legal aid also welcomed the decision of the SC. Peter Jacob, a human rights activist, hailed the SC decision. Ms Eama John said the rule of law was upheld.

The Home Department has warned that sit-ins, processions and public gatherings following Aasia Bibi’s verdict could be soft targets for terrorists.

Public peace in the province, sectarian harmony and law and order situation could get worsen in the wake of terrorist attack. The home department has banned assembly of more than five people at public places except funeral processions and prayers.

According to a notification issued by the Home Department of the Punjab government, people cannot gather at a public place to hold protests. Congregation of people has been strictly prohibited under Section 144(6) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898. People can gather and offer their prayers in mosques, Imambargahs and other recognised places of worship. No one is allowed to carry and display any weapon including licensed ones while law- enforcing agencies (LEAs) would be exempted from it. All types of firing are barred under this law. Additionally, the use of loudspeaker without permission of lawful authority except for Azan or Darood or Khutba is prohibited. Delivering provocative speeches intended to incite any person to resort to any unlawful action is banned under the section. The interior ministry suspended mobile cellular services as processions erupted in Lahore.

The Punjab Education Department has announced a school holiday on Thursday. The announcement of the holiday was made in view of the current situation, a spokesperson for the Punjab Education Department said.

A statement released by the Private Schools Association stated that due to the deteriorating law and order situation and roads being blocked, students would not be able to reach schools. Meanwhile, the All Pakistan Private Schools Association announced that schools would remain closed on Thursday.