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Pakistani cleric faces life term over Asia Bibi protests

TLP leader booked under terrorism charges after inciting followers; cohort said judges who acquitted Bibi should die

Pakistani cleric faces life term over Asia Bibi protests

Khadim Hussain Rizvi (2nd right), head of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), a hard-line Islamist political party, offers Friday prayers along with supporters during a protest rally following the Supreme Court's decision to acquit Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi of blasphemy, in Lahore on Nov. 2. (Photo by Arif Ali/AFP)

Pakistan has charged a firebrand cleric with sedition and terrorism for staging violent protests after Catholic death row inmate Asia Bibi was recently acquitted of blasphemy.

Khadim Hussain Rizvi, leader of the hard-line group Tehreek-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), took to the streets shortly after Pakistan's highest court ordered Bibi's release in a landmark judgment on Oct. 30.

The demonstrators paralyzed the country for three days, forcing the government to strike a written agreement.

But three weeks later, Rizvi and hundreds of TLP leaders were taken into custody on Nov. 24 in an unannounced crackdown.

"Legal action has been initiated against Khadim Hussain Rizvi and other top leaders of the TLP under anti-terrorism and sedition laws," Fawad Chaudhry, Pakistan's information and broadcasting minister, said at a press conference in Lahore on Dec. 1.

"All those directly involved in damaging state property, causing a loss of 50 million rupees [US$360,000], and harassing citizens are being booked under terrorism charges at police stations," Chaudhry said.

"Overall, 2,899 people have been taken into protective custody from across Punjab, 139 persons from Sindh and 126 have been arrested in Islamabad," he said.

If convicted, the suspects could be sentenced to life in prison under sedition and terrorism charges, he added.

"The TLP's politics are not only against the law, but also against the constitution. The TLP attempted to paralyze the state and play with people's lives and property."

Afzal Qadri, a senior leader of the TLP, provoked his followers to revolt against military chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and said the Supreme Court judges who ordered Asia Bibi's acquittal deserved to die.

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Bibi was sentenced to death in 2010 on charges of making derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad during an argument with a Muslim farm worker.

She had been held in solitary confinement since her conviction.

Bibi has consistently denied the charges.

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