Pakistani authorities on Wednesday reportedly announced the arrest of “over 90” members of Islamic extremist parties to prevent an all-out, nationwide riot against the country’s Supreme Court decision this week to uphold the acquittal of a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, on false charges of blasphemy.
“Police have arrested more than 90 activists of different religious parties, mostly Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) on Tuesday and Wednesday for creating law and order situation,” Nabila Ghazanfar, a spokesperson for the Punjab police, told the Press Trust of India (PTI) on Wednesday.
Ghazanfar revealed that “timely action” interrupted and ultimately thwarted the three protests held in Punjab’s Lahore city, adding that police officers arrested the participants.
Punjab is reportedly home to the highest concentration of Christians in Muslim-majority Pakistan. Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law is disproportionately used to target religious minorities, particularly Christians.
Human rights groups have found that Muslims often use the law to settle personal disputes and vendettas.
Blasphemy is a crime in Pakistan punishable by life imprisonment or death depending on the severity of the offense.
Dawn reported that the recent arrests came after hard-line religious parties, namely the anti-blasphemy TLP, urged its followers and supporters to hold protests against the Supreme Court’s decision to clear Bibi of any wrongdoing.
Pakistan is seemingly trying to prevent a repeat of the countrywide riots orchestrated by the anti-blasphemy TLP party following the October 31 Supreme Court’s decision to acquit Bibi, a mother of five who served eight years on death row before the judges rescinded her 2010 verdict.
Although no major reaction was reported across the country in response to the petition being dismissed [on Tuesday], reports were received of TLP workers gathering in Karachi, as well as others parts of the country. Subsequently, arrests were made in parts of Punjab and Karachi on Tuesday evening.
Following the Christian mothers’ acquittal last year, TLP-linked Islamists threatened to kill Bibi, her lawyer, and the judges who cleared her after the acquittal, prompting Pakistani authorities to move Bibi to an undisclosed location, fearing for her safety.
In early November, the Pakistani government reached a deal with TLP to prevent Bibi from leaving the country while the Supreme Court deals with petitions to review its acquittal of the Christian mother of five.
On Tuesday, Pakistan’s Supreme Court dismissed a final petition to appeal the liberation of Bibi, effectively setting the Christian mother free.
Bibi is seeking asylum outside of Pakistan and is expected to join her daughters in Canada, which – along with Spain, France, Italy, and the Netherlands – has reportedly offered to shelter the Christian mother and her family.
Although Pakistan has yet to execute anyone convicted of blasphemy, human rights groups report that several people remain on death row and scores await trial for allegedly insulting Islam.
An estimated 187 Christians alone are reportedly facing blasphemy charges at this time. The law is also used to punish other religious minorities such as Ahmadi Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs.
Many Islamic extremists have taken their version of justice into their own hands in Pakistan where even unproven claims can stir beatings and “mob violence.”