‘It is going to be a war if they let Asia Bibi go abroad’, threatens Khadim Hoessain Rizvi. He is known as one of the most influential hate preachers in Pakistan. Supporters of TLP have been ahead for days in the fired, outrageously angry, crowds that remain insidious about the provisional release of Bibi.
They have suspended their actions after the Pakistani government’s promise not to allow the woman to leave the country while an appeal against the release.
Rizvi (52) is also founder of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP, the abbreviation stands for ‘Here-am-I’ Movement Pakistan, a reference to an Islamic prayer), the political party that unites all kinds of religious extremists in the strict Islamic country.
Farm worker Bibi has been on the death row for the past eight years because she would have insulted the Prophet Muhammad during an argument with neighbours. She herself always said she was innocent. Her condemnation led to horror throughout the world. She is still at an unknown place in Pakistan.
But in the meantime, it is raining threats. Khadim Hussein Rizvi promises war. His party has called on supporters to kill judges. Army officers have been asked to mutinize when Asia Bibi is allowed to travel. The TLP still requires that she will still be hanged in public for blasphemy. A document distributed by the TLP shows that the government has promised not to let it go abroad. Furthermore, all packed TLP demonstrators would be released.
The intimidation of TLP has been going on for years. Successive Pakistani governments tolerated the party because of the violent religious claims that TLP raises with almost everything related to anger about insulting the Prophet. The charge of blasphemy is often used as a political means of pressure.
According to the human rights organization, Amnesty International, Pakistan is notorious for abuse of religious regulations. The sentences against blasphemy were tightened for political reasons in 1986 by the then dictator general Zia-ul-Haq. The accusation of blasphemy is regularly used to persecute religious minorities (in the case of Asia Bibi Christians), to settle personal quarrels (also played in the case of Asia Bibi who had a fight with the neighbours about drinking water from a well that only reserved for Muslims) or to control the street.
“On the basis of little or no evidence, those who are accused of proving their innocence are struggling while angry and violent crowds are trying to intimidate the police, witnesses, prosecutors, lawyers, and judges,” Amnesty wrote earlier. It all looks very similar to what is going on now.
Asia Bibi is not the first victim of this. Three percent of the Pakistani population belongs to religious minorities such as Christians or Hindus and knows how much to watch out. The British newspaper The Independent describes the continuing misery of Junaid Hafeez, a scientist in the English language who was suddenly accused of blasphemy on the basis of his scientific writings. What was special was that some of his most fervent prosecutors could not read or write English at the court, the language in which Hafeez published. Hafeez is still imprisoned. His first lawyer, Rasheed Rehman, was shot dead because he defended Hafeez.
The governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was also shot dead by his own bodyguard after he had publicly pleaded for grace for Asia Bibi. The hanging of the perpetrator, Mumtaz Qadri, was more or less the reason for the establishment of TLP.
Khadim Hoessain Rizvi has always justified the murder of the governor as a will of god. In the social media, many younger Pakistanis stand up against TLP and its kindred spirits. Prime Minister Imran Kahn accuses the party of exploiting religious sentiments for political gain but negotiated with Khadim Hoessain Rizvi at the same time about a compromise in the Asia Bibi case.
The Independent compared the booming emotions in Pakistan about the blasphemy laws with the excitement in the United States about proposals to reduce gun ownership. Pakistan is now with Khadim Hoessain Rizvi who does not do the image of the country well. Recently, reports came out that the hate preacher is being investigated for corruption. The lawyer of Asia Bibi has fled the country because he also fears for his life.