Extremists Who Sparked Riots Over Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi Are Sentenced to 55 Years in Prison

FILE – In this Feb. 4, 2019 file photo, supporters of Tehreek-e-Labbaik, a Pakistani religious group, surround an armored police armored car carrying their leader, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, as he arrives to a court in Lahore, Pakistan. A Pakistani court has sentenced 86 members of the radical Islamist party to 55-year prison terms each for taking part in violent rallies in 2018 over the acquittal of a Christian woman in a blasphemy case, a party official said Friday.(AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary, File)

In 2018, when the Supreme Court of Pakistan acquitted Asia Bibi of the charges of blasphemy against her and overturned her death sentence, massive riots led by the radical Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) party paralyzed the cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi by blocking a major road. The riots even turned violent. Now after a year-long trial, some those responsible for the riots, some 86 members of the TLP, have been sentenced to a 55-year prison sentence.

“We will challenge the verdicts,” Ameer Hussain Rizvi (brother of Khadim Hussain Rizvi—head of the TLP) told reporters.

The decision was announced Thursday night in an anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Rawalpindi.

In addition to the prison time, the convicted are required to pay a collective sum of Rs 12,925,000. The court also ordered authorities to seize their moveable and immoveable assets.

TLP Leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi Trial Pending

The leader of the group, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, was arrested after the 2018 riots under terrorism and sedition charges. However, in May 2019 Rizvi was freed on bail due to medical reasons. In December 2019, Rizvi was indicted for those charges, but a date for the final ruling has not been set yet.

According to The Hindu, the 86 TLP members were charged with damaging public property, beating people up, and disrupting normal life by staging sit-ins. The 55-year sentence is seen as harsh, although it is unlikely those convicted will serve the full time. “Imprisonments given by judges of more than 25 years are mostly symbolic,” prominent Pakistani lawyer A.K. Dogar told The Hindu. “The convicted person only spends a maximum 25 years in prison.”

Immediately following the Supreme Court’s announcement in 2018, an angry mob of Islamist extremists blocked the major road from Islamabad to Rawalpindi. They burned tires and threatened anyone associated with Bibi, including the judges who had ruled in her favor. In response, the government shut down the cellular phone networks in a couple major cities, hoping to deter the protests.

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Source: Church Leaders