A hard-line Islamist party in Pakistan has called for the death of the judges who overturned the death sentence of a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy.
Asia Bibi was sentenced to death in 2010 on blasphemy charges. She had gone to fetch water for herself and fellow farm workers on a hot day the previous year, but two Muslim women had refused to drink from the same container and she was accused by a mob of blasphemy.
She was convicted and sentenced to death, but in a landmark ruling Pakistan’s top court has now acquitted Ms Bibi and order she be released.
The judgement has sparked a backlash from hardline Islamists who have called for the death of the chief justice of the Supreme Court and two other judges behind the ruling.
The leader of the Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) party, which has launched street protests in reaction to the ruling, also called for Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government to be ousted over the case.
Party spokesman Ejaz Ashrafi said: “The patron in chief of TLP, Muhammad Afzal Qadri, has issued the edict that says the chief justice and all those who ordered the release of Asia deserve death.”
Paramilitary troops have been deployed in Islamabad to prevent protesters from reaching the Supreme Court, where security has been stepped up up to protect the judges and authorities have also put security in place at churches around the country.
It is not the first time the case has sparked violence in the country. In 2011 Punjab province governor Salman Taseer was shot and killed by one of his guards for defending Ms Bibi and criticising the misuse of the blasphemy law.
Mumtaz Qadri was hanged for the killing but has been hailed a martyr by hardliners.
Ms Bibi’s family and her lawyer say she never insulted the prophet.
Her husband Ashiq Masih said: “I am very happy. My children are very happy. We are grateful to God. We are grateful to the judges for giving us justice. We knew that she is innocent.”