Schools and shops have been closed across Pakistan amid violent protests after a Christian woman had her death sentence for blasphemy overturned.
Life has been at a standstill across Pakistan as Islamist groups protest against a Supreme Court decision to free a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy.
Schools, offices and shops were closed and traffic was thin as protesters blocked highways and railway tracks in major cities on Friday, the third day of protests.
Pakistan suspended mobile phone networks in major cities, as it often does in the hopes of disrupting the organisation of protests.
The government’s efforts to negotiate with the leaders of Tehreek-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) – the Islamist group responsible for the protests – to defuse the situation ended in a stalemate overnight to Friday.
Three of the four entrances into the capital Islamabad were being controlled by the TLP and activists were preventing vehicles from passing through. They also burned cars and ransacked shops.
The protests broke out on Wednesday after a three-judge tribunal ordered the release of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who had been on death row since 2010.
There was no official word on the whereabouts of Bibi, but reports in local media suggested she might have been flown out of Pakistan due to safety concerns.
TLP leader Khadim Rizvi confirmed early Friday that talks with the government had broken down and vowed to continue protests.
“We will not [end the protests] unless the judges who overturned the death sentence are sacked and Bibi is hanged,” Rizvi told supporters in the eastern city of Lahore.
Bibi was sentenced to death by a lower court in 2010 for allegedly committing blasphemy in a row with Muslim women while working on a farm.
A higher court in the provincial capital Lahore upheld the sentence in 2014 under the country’s controversial blasphemy laws.