On Wednesday, October 31, the Supreme Court of Pakistan acquitted and ordered the immediate release of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was sentenced to death in 2010 over blasphemy charges. Upon release of the verdict, the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) Islamist political party called its supporters to engage in acts of civil disobedience and stage protests across the country. They have openly threatened to kill the Supreme Court judges.
Related protests and significant transportation disruptions have been reported in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Karachi, and Peshawar, among other cities, on Wednesday. Notably, the M2 motorway has been closed from the Islamabad Toll Plaza to Chakri as of late (local time) on Wednesday. Flight delays for international and domestic flights have also been reported at Allama Iqbal International Airport (LHE) on Wednesday due to protests and associated roadblocks in Lahore. Authorities have suspended phone service in the Gulberg, Mall Road, and Johar Town areas of Lahore, and have announced that all public and private schools will remain closed in Punjab province on Thursday, November 1. Though no major incidents of violence have been reported in affected cities as of Wednesday, violent unrest may flare up with little warning over the coming hours and days.
Continued mass protests and associated road transportation disruptions and incidents of violence are to be expected in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, and other major cities over the coming days amid a heightened security presence. The Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) political party is also calling for nationwide protests to take place on Friday, November 2. Pakistani authorities may further disrupt phone and internet communications should the situation continue to escalate. Additional transportation disruptions (including flight delays and cancelations) are possible at airports serving affected cities.
The TLP had publicly warned the government and judiciary against overturning Bibi's death sentence, threatening to stage massive protests should the sentence not be upheld.
The TLP was founded in 2015 and has increasingly been gaining popular support, as demonstrated by the results of the July 2018 general elections. Protests held by the TLP in 2017 demanding the stricter enforcement of blasphemy laws led to a blockade on Islamabad, which lasted for three weeks and resulted in the resignation of the federal law minister. A similar scenario may take place over the coming days if protests over the blasphemy case and acquittal grow.
Individuals in Pakistan are advised to closely monitor developments, prepare for associated transportation disruptions (including flight delays and cancelations), minimize nonessential movements, be prepared to shelter in place, avoid all demonstrations due to the risk of violence, and refrain from discussing sensitive religious and political topics in public.
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