Lahore: Pakistan's Supreme Court has directed the federal and provincial governments to compensate within a month all those who suffered losses during the violent protests by radical Islamist parties following the acquittal of Christian woman Aasia Bibi in a blasphemy case.
The apex court in October overturned the conviction of the 47-year-old mother of four, who was on death row for eight years for blasphemy, in a landmark verdict that sparked nationwide protests, death threats from hardline groups and cheers from human rights advocates.
A two-judge bench headed by Pakistan's Chief Justice Saqib Nisar issued the order on Saturday while hearing a suo motu case at the apex court's Lahore Registry regarding losses and damages to property during the three-day long nationwide sit-ins staged by religious parties led by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), the Express Tribune newspaper reported.
As the proceedings started, a government official submitted a report pertaining to assessment of losses incurred during protests, the paper said.
The top judge asked the Punjab advocate general to tell the court how compensatory payments would be made to the victims.
The advocate general said the federal cabinet has approved a compensation package amounting to Rs 26.2 crore.
Justice Ijazul Ahsan, the other member of the bench, asked if a compensation plan had already been prepared or it was just on paper.
Justice Nisar noted that the government has no plan to compensate the losses.
"Two and half months have passed but the government has not submitted any plan for compensation. It is the court that takes pain. If the court didn't order then this plan would not come either," he added.
A section officer of the Interior Ministry told the court that the government would make compensation payments this month.
Later, the court directed the federal and provincial governments to compensate the victims within a month and submit a compliance report in court, the paper said.
Violent protests erupted in several cities across Pakistan after Aasia Bibi's acquittal. She had earlier been sentenced to death on blasphemy charges by the Lahore High Court.
Enraged mobs had blocked several routes across the country for three days, while at some places they had also set fire to vehicles. The demonstrations resulted in countrywide closure of schools, colleges and universities, as well as cancellation of examinations.
After three days, the government and the protesters led by the TLP had reached an agreement. The government, however, later launched a crackdown against the party on November 24 and arrested its top leaders as well as thousands of supporters.