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Pakistani Police File Charges Against Hundreds After Nationwide Protests

Pakistani protesters burn a poster image of Christian woman Asia Bibi in the southern city of Hyderabad on November 1.
Pakistani protesters burn a poster image of Christian woman Asia Bibi in the southern city of Hyderabad on November 1.

Pakistani police have filed charges against hundreds of people for arson, vandalism, and violence during the protests that erupted after a Christian woman was acquitted of blasphemy charges that carried the death penalty.

A hard-line Islamist party had staged nationwide protests in which thousands of demonstrators blockaded the country’s major motorways and burned cars and lorries.

The three-day protests ended on November 2 after the government agreed to the demands by Tehrik-e Labaik Pakistan party (TLP) to review the acquittal of 54-year-old Asia Bibi, whose sentence was overturned by the Supreme Court on October 30.

Bibi has been banned from leaving Pakistan pending a judicial review of her acquittal.

The Interior Ministry said in a November 3 statement that cases will be registered against “all those miscreants who under the guise of peaceful protests caused destruction to property and harmed unarmed citizens."

Police in Punjab, the country's largest province, said charges had been filed against over 1,000 people.

Police in the capital Islamabad said they had filed charges against nearly 250 protesters for injuring policemen and damaging state property.

Police had also filed charges against protesters in the provinces of Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

A government official estimated that the protesters caused around $1.2 billion in damages.

The government is facing criticism for not taking any action against the leaders of the TLP. Authorities promised to free any TLP workers arrested during the protests.

The TLP, founded in 2015, blockaded Islamabad for several weeks last year calling for stricter enforcement of Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws.

Blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan, and the mere rumor of committing the crime can incite lynching.

Approximately 40 people are believed to be on death row or serving a life sentence in Pakistan for blasphemy, according to a 2018 report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

With reporting by Dawn, AP, and The News

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