A Pakistani court has sentenced 86 members of a far right religious party to 55-year prison terms each for taking part in violent protests against the acquittal of a Christian woman in a blasphemy case, party officials say.
The verdicts were announced late on Thursday night by a court in the northern garrison city of Rawalpindi, Pir Ejaz Ashrafi, a senior leader of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA) party, told Al Jazeera.
The 86 TLRYA activists were arrested in November 2018, as the party led violent protests against the acquittal by the country’s Supreme Court of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who was on death row for having allegedly committed blasphemy in 2009.
Days of protests saw TLRYA activists – led by party leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi – block big highways and destroy public property across the country, but mostly centred in the central province of Punjab.
At the time, senior TLP leader Pir Afzal Qadri had called for the judges who announced the acquittal to be killed.
The charges against those sentenced include destroying public property, attacking passers-by and disrupting citizens’ everyday life. Ashrafi said the sentences were “harsh” and that his party would be appealing the decision at the high court.
“This is the murder of justice. We are hopeful that they will suspend the verdict in the high court, and our legal team is working on it,” he told Al Jazeera by telephone from the eastern city of Lahore, where the TLYRA is based.