The Islamic cleric who has been calling for the death of Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi faces a potential life sentence in prison, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudry announced Saturday.
Khadim Hussain Rizvi, a leader of the extremist political party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), was charged with sedition and terrorism after spearheading the protests that have roiled Pakistan since Bibi’s recent acquittal on a 2010 blasphemy charge.
Rizvi’s deputy, Afzal Qadri, faces the same charges after calling for the murder of Pakistan’s Supreme Court judges and the overthrow of Pakistan’s army chief. (RELATED: Christian Woman Freed From Death Row — She Was Jailed For Insulting Mohammed)
“Today, we have decided to take legal action against the TLP leadership,” Chaudry said at a press conference, according to Reuters. “All those who were directly involved in destroying property, who misbehaved with women, who set fire to buses, are being charged under laws of terrorism at different police stations,” he continued.
Rizvi and other TLP leadership were first detained on Nov. 23, nearly a month after Bibi was released from prison. In the days before Rizvi’s arrest, mullahs were reported to be going house to house in search of Bibi and her family. (RELATED: Islamists Are Going Door-To-Door Looking For Asia Bibi)
A Roman Catholic, Bibi was charged eight years ago with blasphemy against Mohammed for words she allegedly said in an argument over a cup of water with Muslim women from her village.
“I’m not going to convert,” Bibi claimed to have said to the women when they refused to drink after her and pressed her to become a Muslim. “I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind? And why should it be me that converts instead of you?”
Until her release late October, Bibi suffered alone in a windowless, 8-by-10-foot cell, awaiting a death sentence. Insulting Islam and its prophet is a capital offense in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. (RELATED: Women’s March Leader Linda Sarsour Arrested At Kavanaugh Hearing)
After being acquitted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in October, Bibi and her family were forced into hiding because of violent, disruptive protests that erupted across the country. The unrest brought many parts of Pakistan “to a standstill,” the New York Times reported. Among the leaders of the unrest were Rizvi and other leaders of TLP.
TLP is a political party that formed in support of Mumtaz Qadri, the bodyguard who was executed in 2011 for assassinating Punjabi Governor Salman Taseer, whom he was supposed to be protecting. Taseer had defended Bibi and publicly called for the reform of Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy law.
“He is a hero,” Rizvi said of Qadri in 2017.
Since then, maintenance of Pakistan’s blasphemy law has been at the forefront of TLP’s agenda, which continues to gain political momentum in the country.
The Bibi case has caused profound controversy in some Western nations, where many are calling for Bibi to be granted asylum. Last month, Republican Sen. Rand Paul called for all U.S. aid to Pakistan to be cut off until Bibi is freed. (RELATED: Trump To Cut Off Pakistan From US Aid For Terror Support)
“President Trump and his administration have been stalwart and vocal champions for religious freedom across the globe,” Gov. Mike Huckabee wrote Monday in an op-ed for Fox News. “And in Asia Bibi’s case, urgent action is needed RIGHT NOW.”