Pakistan's army denies role in Aasia Bibi acquittal

By Aamir Latif

KARACHI, Pakistan (AA) – Amid escalating tensions over the acquittal of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman, for blasphemy, Pakistan's powerful army on Friday said the matter was purely legal, and that the military had nothing to do with it.

The rare clarification came after some religious leaders accused the army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, and the three-member Supreme Court bench that acquitted the Christian woman in the blasphemy case on Wednesday, of "orchestrating" the acquittal.

Some of them even went so far as to declare the three judges "condemnable to death" and called on generals to revolt against the army chief.

"Aasia Bibi's case is a purely legal matter, and it should be disposed of through legal process. Dragging the Pakistan army into every matter is deplorable," Major Gen. Asif Ghafoor, Pakistan army spokesman, said in a brief interview with state-run Pakistan Television.

"There is no compromise on our love of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him,” Ghafoor continued. “[But] Aasia Bibi's case is a legal issue which was being heard for the last 10 years. We should allow it to be disposed of through the legal process."

"Islam commands us to peace, forgiveness, and love. Law and order must be maintained in the country," he said, referring to ongoing protests — some of them violent — across the country against the top court's judgment.

On Friday, roads remained blocked and educational institutions were shut down for a third day in a row following a call for a nationwide strike from religious parties as talks between the government and protesters faltered late Thursday.

Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi, firebrand head of the newly emerged Sunni group Tehreek e Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), called on his followers "to get ready for martyrdom."

A three-member bench of the top court headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar acquitted Aasia Bibi, who had been sentenced to death by a district court in November 2010 for blaspheming Muhammad.

In Pakistan, blaspheming Islam or Muhammad is a criminal offense that can carry the death penalty. While the state has never executed anyone under the law, mere allegations have stirred mass protests and violence.