Imran Khan calls for calm after protests over Asia Bibi blasphemy acquittal

Ex-Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, says Ms Bibi was in jail for an offence she did not commit and that shouldn’t exist

Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan has called for calm after furious protests across the country over the acquittal of a Christian woman

Mr Khan spoke on TV several hours after the Supreme Court ordered the acquittal of Asia Bibi – a decision that sparked protests across the country and calls for the judges to be killed.

The mother-of-three, 47, was convicted of blasphemy in November 2010 after being accused of defaming the Prophet Muhammad.

The blasphemy law in Pakistan carries a mandatory death penalty and many hardline religious groups are opposed to it being amended.

Mr Khan said: “They are inciting you for their own political gain, you should not get trapped by them for the sake of the country, they are doing no service to Islam.

“We will protect people’s properties and lives, we will not allow any sabotage, we will not allow any traffic to be stopped.

“They are not serving Islam, but trying to increase their vote bank,” Mr Khan said of the clerics. “They are doing their politics.”

Protests were staged in major cities across Pakistan with club-wielding demonstrators blocking Islamabad’s main highway and barricading roads in Karachi and Lahore.

Thousands of supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik party, led by firebrand cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, took to the streets in protests, demanding Ms Bibi’s public execution.

Security forces moved quickly, deploying outside churches to protect minority Christians and urged demonstrators to disperse peacefully.

Commandos were sent to protect the three high court judges who decided to acquit Ms Bibi after a cleric in the eastern city of Lahore urged religious extremists to kill them.

The verdict was seen as a hopeful sign by Christians in Pakistan, where the mere rumour of blasphemy can spark killings.

The former bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, who is a Christian born in Pakistan, said Ms Bibi should be granted asylum in the UK.

He said: “It is still unsafe for her and her family to stay in Pakistan. I know Germany has already made some kind of offer to her and her family.

“I think someone has to offer asylum and for her to leave the country as quickly as possible.”

Of the Supreme Court’s decision to acquit, he said: “We are very thankful she is free and I do thank the Supreme Court for doing the right thing.”

He added that Ms Bibi has been on death row for almost a decade and it was “scandalous she spent all these years for an offence she did not commit and an offence that should not exist”.

Source: Sky News