Dubai: Pakistan’s two firebrand religious leaders who had been booked under sedition and terrorism charges late last year, have been granted bail against surety bond of Rs 5million (Dh130,000) each.
Khadim Hussain Rivzi, Chief of Tehreek-e-Labbaikh Pakistan (TLP), and Pir Afzal Qari, Patron-in-Chief of the TLP were arrested after launching protests against the government on the acquittal of Asia Bibi who was serving jail on blasphemy charges.
The Supreme Court ruled against the charges and acquitted Asia Bibi, who was also allowed to leave the country earlier this month.
Both Rizvi and Qadri were granted bail after Asia Bibi left the country to join her family in Canada.
Rizvi and Qadri were taken into "protective custody" by the state during a crackdown in November 2018, after the TLP announced it would observe martyrs’ day on November 25, 2018.
The arrests followed weeks after the TLP led three-day protests across the country against Asia Bibi's acquittal, according to Dawn, an English daily in Pakistan.
Qadri, who had been booked under sedition and terrorism charges, had resigned from the TLP on May 1 citing health issues and, on the court's earlier directions, issued a public apology for his remarks.
The two-member bench, comprising of Justice Qasim Ali Khan and Justice Asjad Javed Gharal granted the bail till July 15.
The high court pronounced the judgement it had reserved on May 10, on bail pleas filed by Rizvi and Qadri, and rejected an apology submitted by Qadri over incendiary remarks he made during a protest against the Supreme Court's acquittal of Asia Bibi.
The two leaders moved the high court for bail after an anti-terrorism court in Lahore had rejected their request in a case lodged against them for launching a violent protest against the acquittal of Asia Bibi.
The blasphemy case against Asia Bibi is considered the most notorious case in the country as it led to murder of Punjab governor Salman Taseer by his own security guard.
As the governor of Punjab, Taseer had visited Asia Bibi in the prison prison in 2010.
In a televised press conference, with Asia sitting veiled beside him, Taseer had appealed to the president of Pakistan to pardon her.
Only a few weeks later, Taseer was assassinated in broad daylight by his own security guard.
In the middle of Islamabad’s busy Kohsaar market, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, a young police commando, shot the governor 27 times at point-blank range.
Overnight, Qadri became a hero to millions. Handing himself over to the authorities, Qadri told the police he did not have any regrets over killing Taseer — that it was his religious duty.
Qadri was sentenced to death, and hanged to death in 2016, triggering protest across the country by the TLP leadership.
Asia Bibi was acquitted of blasphemy charges by the Supreme Court on October 31, 2018, after spending nine years in jail on death row. The ruling sparked country-wide protests by religio-political groups especially by the TLP.
After she was released from a Multan women's prison on November 7 last year, she was flown to Islamabad via special aircraft, and then taken to an undisclosed location amid tight security until her departure to Canada last week.
The allegations against Asia Bibi were made in June 2009 when she was labouring in a field and a row broke out with some Muslim women she was working with.
She was asked to fetch water, but the Muslim women reportedly objected, saying that as a non-Muslim she was unfit to touch the water bowl.
A few days later, the women went to a local cleric and put forward the blasphemy allegations, which Pakistan's Supreme Court threw out for lack of evidence.