The acquittal of a Christian woman – Asia Bibi, facing the death penalty for blasphemy charges in Pakistan has flared public passion. Due to ongoing protests, Pakistan suspended mobile phone networks in major cities on Friday and many schools were closed as radical groups protested for a third consective day against the verdict.
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The Supreme Court on Wednesday reversed the conviction of Asia Bibi, a mother of five, and ordered her to be released of dangerous blasphemy charges. Asia Bbi had been living on death row since 2010 after being convicted. The incident angered the Christians worldwide and has been a source of division within Pakistan, where two politicians who sought to help Bibi were assassinated.
The Supreme Court decision infuriated radical Islamists, in particular members of a group called the Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP), who have taken to the streets to call for the death of the judges who made the decision.
Authorities, including members of the main military security agency, held negotiations with the leader of the group late on Thursday but they came to no agreement, the TLP leader, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, said.
“Both sides should talk amongst themselves, and we should not reach the stage where this matter comes under the ambit of the armed forces,” he told state-run PTV channel. On Friday, telephone networks were down in Islamabad, and the eastern city of Lahore, where pockets of TLP protesters blocked main roads.
“All services have been shut down by the government,” said a customer service representative at one of Pakistan’s main mobile phone companies, while declining to provide further information.
Authorities in Pakistan often shut down mobile phone networks in the hope of distrusting the organisation of protests. Schools across the most populous province of Punjab were closed. In the commercial hub of Karachi in the south, normally bustling markets were shuttered.