Posts Tagged ‘blasphemy’

Pakistan interior minister recovering after gun attack — Possibly linked to blasphemy

May 7, 2018

Pakistan’s interior minister was recovering in hospital Monday after being shot in a suspected assassination possibly linked to blasphemy, with the attack seen as a “bad omen” for nationwide elections.

Iqbal, 59, was shot in the right arm as he prepared to leave a public meeting in his constituency in Punjab province late Sunday.

© PID/AFP | Pakistan’s Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal Iqbal, 59, was shot in the right arm as he prepared to leave a public meeting in his constituency in Punjab province late Sunday

AFP

A man identified by police only as “Abid” and said to be in his early 20s was wrestled to the ground by police and bystanders as he was preparing to fire a second shot. He has been taken in to custody.

The local deputy commissioner Ali Anan Qamar told AFP that the shooter said he carried out the attack over a small amendment to the oath that election candidates must swear which was hastily reversed last year after it was linked to blasphemy.

The controversy ignited a three-week sit-in last November by a previously little-known Islamist group which paralysed the capital and ended when the government capitulated to the protesters’ demands in a deal brokered by the military.

At the time many Pakistanis warned that a dangerous precedent had been set in which fringe groups could bend the state to their will by citing blasphemy, a highly inflammatory charge in the conservative Muslim country.

Iqbal was rushed first to a local hospital and then airlifted to Lahore, where video footage released by his ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) showed him being lowered from a helicopter on a stretcher, his eyes open as he responded to questions.

Doctors later said he was in stable condition.

The attack was swiftly condemned by the international community, including the US ambassador and the French embassy, as Pakistanis voiced fears it represented an attempt to “weaken democracy” ahead of the federal elections, widely expected to be held late this summer.

– ‘Bad omen’ –

Ziauddin Yousafzai, the father of Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, tweeted that he “strongly condemned” the attack, calling it “(a) bad omen for upcoming general elections that is supposed to be free, fair and transparent.”

The vote will only be Pakistan’s second ever democratic transition, and with the PML-N in disarray since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was ousted by the Supreme Court over graft allegations last summer, there has been growing speculation it could be delayed.

The court banned Sharif from politics for life, while foreign minister Khawaja Asif was also ousted by the Islamabad High Court late last month for violating election laws.

Sharif and his supporters have repeatedly denied the allegations, suggesting they are victims of a conspiracy driven by Pakistan’s powerful military to reduce the sway of their party.

Despite the setbacks, the party has won a string of recent by-elections, proving it will likely remain a force in the vote.

Iqbal, touted as a potential prime minister when Sharif was ousted last July, is a US-educated lawmaker from a political family long associated with the PML-N.

Considered the brains behind the party’s development agenda, he previously headed up the planning ministry.

© 2018 AFP

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Prayer and Meditation for Friday, March 23, 2018 — “You are gods? You Make the Laws?” — “Scripture cannot be set aside.”

March 22, 2018

Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Lectionary: 255

Image may contain: 2 people, people standing

Art: Jews prepare to stone Jesus

Reading 1 JER 20:10-13

I hear the whisperings of many:
“Terror on every side!
Denounce! let us denounce him!”
All those who were my friends
are on the watch for any misstep of mine.
“Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail,
and take our vengeance on him.”
But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion:
my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.
In their failure they will be put to utter shame,
to lasting, unforgettable confusion.
O LORD of hosts, you who test the just,
who probe mind and heart,
Let me witness the vengeance you take on them,
for to you I have entrusted my cause.
Sing to the LORD,
praise the LORD,
For he has rescued the life of the poor
from the power of the wicked!

Responsorial Psalm PS 18:2-3A, 3BC-4, 5-6, 7

R. (see 7) In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.
I love you, O LORD, my strength,
O LORD, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer.
R. In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.
My God, my rock of refuge,
my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold!
Praised be the LORD, I exclaim,
and I am safe from my enemies.
R. In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.
The breakers of death surged round about me,
the destroying floods overwhelmed me;
The cords of the nether world enmeshed me,
the snares of death overtook me.
R. In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.
In my distress I called upon the LORD
and cried out to my God;
From his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry to him reached his ears.
R. In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.

Verse Before The Gospel SEE JN 6:63C, 68C

Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life;
you have the words of everlasting life.

Gospel JN 10:31-42

The Jews picked up rocks to stone Jesus.
Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from my Father.
For which of these are you trying to stone me?”
The Jews answered him,
“We are not stoning you for a good work but for blasphemy.
You, a man, are making yourself God.”
Jesus answered them,
“Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, ‘You are gods”‘?
If it calls them gods to whom the word of God came,
and Scripture cannot be set aside,
can you say that the one
whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world
blasphemes because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?
If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me;
but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me,
believe the works, so that you may realize and understand
that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
Then they tried again to arrest him;
but he escaped from their power.He went back across the Jordan
to the place where John first baptized, and there he remained.
Many came to him and said,
“John performed no sign,
but everything John said about this man was true.”
And many there began to believe in him.*********************************************

Commentary on John 10:31-42 From Living Space

Once again Jesus’ enemies want to stone him because they continue to accuse him of blasphemy. “You, a man, are making yourself God.” It is clear they have no doubt about the meaning of his words. Jesus points to the Scriptures which has God saying of some people “You are gods”. Jesus is here referring to the people called ‘judges’ in Israel. Since they were judges of their people, taking on themselves something which belongs only to God, they were called “gods” (cf. Deut 1:17; Exod 21:6; Ps 82:6).

If people inspired by the word from God could be called ‘gods’ can Jesus whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world blaspheme because he says, “I am the Son of God”? And, if they will not accept a verbal claim, Jesus appeals to what he has been doing. “Even if you refuse to believe in me, at least believe in the work I do.” To anyone with an open mind it is clear that God is working in Jesus. “You will know for sure that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Again, they tried to seize him but he escaped from their power. His time had not yet come. That time would not be decided by them.

On the other hand, while Jesus was being attacked by the leaders of the Jews, many of the ordinary people continued to seek him out. Jesus had gone back across the Jordan (a safer place) to the spot where John the Baptist had baptised and given such strong testimony to Jesus. Many people came looking for him there. They could see, as the Pharisees could not, a clear distinction between Jesus and John: “John performed no sign, but everything John said about this man was true. And many there came to believe in him.” There are many who reject Christ and his message today but let us pray that we may have open minds to believe the many signs by which God reveals his love to us each day.

Source: http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/l1056g/

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Christ with mocking soldier by Carl Bloch

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Commentary on Jer 20:10-13

Jeremiah, the prophet, God’s spokesman, is attacked and denounced on all sides by his own people.

“Terror on every side!” is the mocking call of Jeremiah’s critics, satirising his constantly gloomy predictions. “Let us denounce him!” – in the way that he constantly denounces the behaviour of others.

Even his friends abandon him. “All those who were on good terms with me watched for my downfall.” They are waiting for him to make some fatal mistake. “Perhaps he will be seduced into error. Then we shall get the better of him.” Jesus was treated in exactly the same way by Pharisees and Scribes constantly trying to catch him out in violation of the Law. They ‘plant’ a cripple in a synagogue on a Sabbath day to see if he will heal him. They ask him if it is right or not to give taxes to Caesar – where a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer will be equally incriminating.

But Jeremiah has confidence in his God and his attackers will not prevail. “The Lord is at my side… my opponents will stumble, mastered, confounded by their failure…” For his God is a God of justice and truth. A God who is on the side of the needy. “Praise Yahweh, for he has delivered the soul of one in need.”

The needy one, ebion, or the poor, anaw, is used in a religious sense: ill-treated by people but confident in God, looking to Yahweh for support. By Jeremiah’s time, the term ‘poor/needy’ had become virtually synonymous with ‘righteous’, someone whose total trust and dependence is on God.

Ultimately, Jeremiah knows, Truth and Justice will prevail no matter what some people try to do. It is a belief that we need to remember ourselves. It is a belief we see realised in Jesus. They could kill his body but not his Spirit.

Source: http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/l1056r/

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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
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Reflection

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• We are close to Holy Week, during which we commemorate and update the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Beginning with the fourth week of Lent, the texts of the Gospel of every day are texts taken almost exclusively from the Gospel of John, two chapters which stress the dramatic tension between the progressive revelation, on the one side, which Jesus makes of the mystery of the Father which fills him completely, and on the other side, the progressive closing up of the Jews who always become more impenetrable to the message of Jesus. The tragic aspect of this closing up is that they claim it is in fidelity to God. They refuse Jesus in the name of God.
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• This way in which John presents the conflict between Jesus and the religious authority is not only something which has taken place in the far past. It is also a mirror which reflects what happens today. In the name of God, some persons transform themselves into bombs and kill other persons. In the name of God, we, members of the three religions of the God of Abraham, Jews, Christians and Muslims, mutually condemn one another, fight among ourselves, throughout history. Ecumenism is difficult among us, and at the same time it is necessary. In the name of God, many horrible things have been committed and we continue to commit them every day. Lent is an important period of time to stop and to ask ourselves: Which is the image of God which I have within me?
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• John 10, 31-33: The Jews want to stone Jesus. The Jews prepare stone to kill Jesus and Jesus asks: “I have shown you many good works from my Father, for which of these are you stoning me?” The answer: “We are stoning you, not for doing a good work, but for blasphemy; though you are only man, you claim to be God”. They want to kill Jesus because he blasphemes. The law ordered that such persons should be stoned.
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• John 10, 34-36: The Bible calls all sons of God. They want to kill Jesus because he says he is God. Jesus responds in the name of the law of God itself. “Is it not perhaps written in your Law: I said you are gods? Now, if the Law has called gods those to whom the Word of God was addressed (and Scripture cannot be set aside), to those whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world, and you say: You blaspheme, because I have said: I am the Son of God?”
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• Strangely, Jesus says “your law”. He could have said: “our Law”. Why does he speak in this way? Here appears again the tragic division between Jews and Christians, brothers, sons of the same father Abraham, who became irreconcilable enemies to the point that the Christians say “your law”, as if it were not our law.
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• John 10, 37-38: At least believe in the works. Jesus again speaks of the works that he does and which are the revelation of the Father. If I do not do the works of the Father, there is no need to believe in me. But if I do them, even if you do not believe in me, at least believe in the works I do, so that you will believe that the Father is in me and I am in the Father. These are the same words that he said at the Last Supper (Jn 14, 10-11).
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• John 10, 39-42: Once again they want to kill him, but he flees from their clutches. There was no sign of conversion. They continue to say that Jesus blasphemes and insist in killing him. There is no future for Jesus. His death has been decided, but as yet his hour has not arrived. Jesus goes out and crosses the Jordan going toward the place where John had baptized. In this way he indicates the continuity of his mission with the mission of John. He helped people to become aware of how God acts in history. The people recognize in Jesus the one whom John had announced.
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Personal questions
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• The Jews condemn Jesus in the name of God, in the name of the image that they have of God. Sometimes, have I condemned someone in the name of God and then I have discovered that I was mistaken?
• Jesus calls himself “Son of God”. When in the Creed I say that Jesus is the Son of God, which is the content that I give to my profession of faith?
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Concluding Prayer
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Yahweh is my rock and my fortress,
my deliverer is my God.
I take refuge in him, my rock, my shield,
my saving strength, my stronghold,
my place of refuge. (Ps 18,2)
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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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23 MARCH, 2018, Friday, 5th Week of Lent

DEALING WITH OUR OPPONENTS

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ JER 20:10-13JN 10:31-42 ]

We can easily identify with Jeremiah and Jesus in today’s scripture readings. Very often, we are misunderstood for doing good. Jeremiah prophesied for the sake of his people and his country.  But in the process he was gravely misunderstood by his own people.  Even his relatives and friends were against him.  This was also the situation with Jesus in today’s gospel.  He came to His own, but His own did not accept Him.

The gospel tells us that they wanted to stone Him because He identified Himself with the Father in doing good.  The real pain is not so much the physical pain we suffer, but the emotional pain.  An Indian proverb says, “Stones cannot hurt you as much as words that cut you.” Indeed what is most frustrating and hurtful is when we have given ourselves selflessly to others and instead of gratitude, we receive only negative comments and opposition.

The truth is that when we are in authority or in a position of power, we can expect to face criticisms in life.  We will attract enemies because they do not like the way we manage situations, especially when their interests are threatened.  Some may be envious of our position and office and thus would like to bring us down.  But most of the time, it is due to misunderstandings, disagreements and different mindsets.   If people do not trust us, no matter what we do, they will take a negative view.  It is significant that in today’s gospel we are told that the people believed in the testimony of John the Baptist about Jesus, whereas they did not believe Jesus in spite of the works that He did.

Yet, it is important that we remain faithful to our calling in life in spite of opposition.  That was what Jeremiah and Jesus did.  They did not compromise or give in simply because they faced opposition. How should we handle our opponents?

Firstly, it is important that we are discerning people ourselves.  We must not react by retaliating.  This would not only show us to be immature, but also as overly defensive and closed to dialogue.  Not all criticisms are wrong.  Perhaps some criticisms are sincere and constructive.  We have to weigh carefully what our opponents are saying about us.  They might reveal things about us that we are not aware of.  So before we act, make sure we do not react.  Praying about it can help us to be more objective in evaluating the situation.

Secondly, we need to search ourselves and be certain that we are sincerely doing the will of God.  We must be conscious of our hidden motives, our ego and pride.  We must go through the scriptures as Jesus did to find verification.  Reading the word of God in a prayerful manner will help us to purify our intentions and be clear of the will of God.  Indeed, Jeremiah prayed thus, “But you, Lord of hosts, you who probe with justice, who scrutinize the loins and heart”.  So it is important that before we confront our opponents, we must first bare ourselves before God.

But this is not enough.  We must demonstrate with works.  Indeed, this is what Jesus said to the Jews, “If I am not doing my Father’s work, there is no need to believe me, at least believe in the work I do; then you will know for sure that the Father is in me and I am the Father.”  By our fruits, we show who we are.  Of course, people can misinterpret our actions.

But what is important in the final analysis is not what people say or think, but whether we are true to ourselves and true to God.  Yes, the sincerity and truthfulness of the message of Jeremiah is proven by their fidelity to God’s will and God’s words.  Jesus’ claim to sonship is based on the fact that He identified Himself with whatever the Father willed.

But that is not all, once we have done the necessary and proper discernment, we must entrust everything and our cause to the Lord.  This was what Jeremiah did when he prayed, “But the Lord is at my side, a mighty hero; my opponents will stumble, mastered, confounded by their failure; everlasting, unforgettable disgrace will be theirs. But you, Lord of hosts, you who probe with justice, who scrutinize the loins and heart, let me see the vengeance you will take on them, for I have committed my cause to you.”  Ultimately, God is our judge and He will vindicate us as He did for Jesus.

Jesus too prepared Himself for the baptism of blood by returning to Jordan to reflect further on the implications of His sonship.  Of course, as the gospel remarked, it was at Jordan where John was baptizing that Jesus received His baptism.  At His baptism, He received the anointing of the Holy Spirit and a keen awareness of His sonship.  It was then that He came to full realization what this sonship entailed, namely, obedience unto death, and death on the cross.

In the final analysis, we are called to share in the passion of Christ.  Like Jesus, we are called to carry the cross humbly.  As we are on the threshold of Holy Week, we must be resolute in wanting to be faithful to our beliefs.  Through innocent and vicarious suffering we are sanctified for we learn to let go, and like Jesus, allow God to act on our behalf.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh

Who are the “anti-blasphemy” Islamists wielding new political influence in Pakistan?

December 3, 2017

The public perception after the crackdown against protestors is overwhelmingly anti-PML(N), while the Pakistan military has gained more sympathy for refusing the act against them. The stage has now been set for the PML(N) exit in the elections next year

Written by Umer Ali | Updated: December 1, 2017 10:43 am

pakistan, pakistan protests, pakistan blasphemy laws, pakistan protests blasphemy laws, Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool-ullah, pakistan news, indian express, indian express news

Members of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan far right Islamist political party shout slogans during a sit-in in Rawalpindi, Pakistan November 10, 2017. Reuters

The last three weeks have laid bare Pakistan’s claims of countering extremist ideology, both militarily and ideologically. The state shut down social media websites and TV channels in order to counter protesting supporters of the newly-formed religious party, Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool-ullah around Islamabad, and ordered the deployment of troops to restore order. But as a clear sign of insubordination, the military instead objected to the way the protest was handled.

It is important to explore the genesis of TLYP – a group of Barelvi religious organizations behind these protests. For decades, the Deobandi-Salafist groups championed the cause of violent jihad in Pakistan, while the Barelvi groups mostly remained apolitical and non-violent. However, unlike the common belief that only Deobandi-Salafist groups apostatize other sects, Barelvi literature is also rich with fatwas against the followers of other Islamic sects. One reason why Barelvi groups weren’t radicalized during the Afghan jihad is because the Saudi funding to fight the Soviet Union was directed towards Deobandi and Salafist groups due to their ideological affinity. However, over the past few years, Barelvi groups have gained significant political influence and street power.

Barelvi (Urduبَریلوِی‎, BarēlwīUrdu pronunciation: [bəreːlʋi]) is a term used for the movement following the SunniHanafi school of jurisprudence, originating in Bareilly with over 200 million followers in South Asia.[1] The name derives from the north Indian town of Bareilly, the hometown of its founder and main leader Ahmed Raza Khan (1856–1921).[2][3][4][5][6] Although Barelvi is the commonly used term in the media and academia, the followers of the movement often prefer to be known by the title of Ahle Sunnat wa Jama’at, (Urduاہل سنت وجماعت‎) or as Sunnis, a reference to their perception as forming an international majority movement.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barelvi

Since then, Qadri, a Barelvi himself, became the poster boy for Barelvi religious groups. They now champion the ishq-i-rasool (love for the prophet), and remain at the forefront of anti-blasphemy campaigning in Pakistan. The much-needed catalyst to bring their followers on the streets was the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri to death. TLYP was born out of the protests against Qadri’s death. The current leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi gained fame through his fiery speeches against the government.

Unlike the several militant outfits which turned on the military after Pakistan decided to aid the United States’ war on terror in Afghanistan, TLYP focuses its criticism on the civilian government, and not the military. Unlike the Deobandis and Salafis, experts say, Barelvi leaders pose as pro-army and pro-state, who want themselves affiliated with the army, thus giving an impression that everything they are doing is lawful.

This stands true in the current fiasco as well, when General Qamar Bajwa reportedly refused to deploy the military to disperse the protestors, saying “they are our people”. Now that a deal has been struck between the government and the protestors with the arbitration of an ISI Major General, and Law minister Zahid Hamid has resigned, several questions arise: why did an ISI General act as an arbitrator between the government and protestors? If the government was willing to accept the protestors’ demand, why wait for three weeks? Perhaps, the military pressurized the government to accept the protestors’ demands.

The deal itself has been subject to severe criticism by various quarters, with leading commentators describing it as “surrender”. Unfortunately, such deals were struck with the likes of TTP leaders Mullah Fazlullah in Swat and Nek Muhammad in Waziristan, but ultimately, the state had to launch military operations against them.

If one was to learn from those experiences, accepting the demands of an outlawed group is acknowledging them as stakeholders, which only worsens the situation. With this deal as well, the government conformed to the outrageous demands of a small group of protestors – setting another very bad precedent.

Now that someone’s faith is subject to suspicion by a mob, it is clear the mob won’t stop with Zahid Hamid. According to some reports, Punjab Law minister Rana Sanaullah needs to testify his belief in the finality of Prophethood in front of some clerics. If this continues, no one even with a slightly dissenting opinion will be able to live peacefully in Pakistan.

However, there is another important factor to be considered. The military in Pakistan has a history of using religious groups to further their agenda. Currently, the establishment is working hard to destroy the PML(N) votebank ahead of the 2018 general elections. What better way to do so but pitting Barelvism – a large part of the Pakistani population adheres to this school of thought – against the PML(N) ?

The signs have been there. In the recent by-elections for the National Assembly seat vacated by the disqualified former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, TLYP received more than 7,000 votes, while the Milli Muslim League – a political front of the banned LeT (or JuD) – received more than 5,500 votes. Both parties built their campaigns based solely on anti-PML(N) rhetoric.

One reason the military establishment is now relying on Barelvi groups is because the previous “assets” have now become a liability. Pakistan faces continuous pressure from the international community for not acting against terror groups like Hafiz Saeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa, or its previous incarnation, the Lashkar-e-Toiba. By using the Barelvi groups, over an issue as sensitive as blasphemy, the military establishment might be preparing alternative assets to be deployed against their political rivals in Pakistan. The public perception after the government crackdown against protestors is overwhelmingly anti-PML(N), while the Pakistan military has gained more sympathy for refusing the act against them. Pakistan’s ultra-conservative population believe they were fighting for a noble cause.

The stage has now been set for the PML(N) exit in the elections next year, but at a hefty cost. A dangerous precedent has been set, and the majority Muslim sect has been weaponized. History is repeating itself in Pakistan.

Umer Ali is an award-winning Pakistani journalist who has reported extensively on terrorism, blasphemy, and human rights. He tweets @iamumer1
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Khadim Hussain Rizvi, leader of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan an Islamist political party, attends Friday prayers during a sit-in in Rawalpindi, Pakistan November 17, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood Reuters

Blasphemy Uproar in Pakistan: Drive to Halt Insults Against Islam Gains Political Clout in Pakistan — “This is a mini revolution.”

December 3, 2017

Anti-blasphemy uprising in majority sect wins influence through protests, prosecutions

Protesters chanted slogans at their protest site in Islamabad, Pakistan on Nov. 27.Photo: CAREN FIROUZ/Reuters

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—An emerging religious movement is gaining political clout in Pakistan around the incendiary issue of blasphemy, posing a particular challenge to the country’s leadership because it springs from the country’s mainstream Islamic sect.

Religious activists led by a cleric with a weeks-old political party besieged Pakistan’s capital in late November and forced the government to give in to all of their demands, including promises of stricter implementation of blasphemy laws.

“This is a mini revolution,” said Ayesha Siddiqa, an expert on religious extremism.

The anti-blasphemy wave, supported by vigilantism and political activism, is reviving religious strife in the society and politics of Pakistan, which is gradually surfacing from a decadelong struggle with Islamist terrorism.

This time the conflict comes not in militant attacks but an inquisition over who is a proper Muslim.

Khadim Rizvi, leader of the Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah political party, addresses the media during protests in Islamabad, on Nov. 27.Photo: caren firouz/Reuters

With national elections set to be held by September, the concessions to protesters last month underscored the threat that the movement could pose to Pakistan’s ruling party among voters and lawmakers, some of whom are threatening to leave the party over the issue.

Laws prohibiting blasphemy—statements or actions against Islam—have long been on the books in Pakistan and other Muslim countries. But there are more cases recorded in Pakistan, with harsher punishments, including a mandatory death penalty for using derogatory language about the Prophet Muhammad.

Anti-blasphemy campaigns are also growing in other parts of the Muslim world, including Indonesia, where a conservative party gained clout this year with accusations of blasphemy against the governor of Jakarta, who is Christian. He lost re-election, was convicted and is serving a two-year prison sentence.

In Pakistan, the new campaign was ignited by a February 2016 decision by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government to execute a police officer, Mumtaz Qadri, who had shot dead a politician who had sought to make the blasphemy law less open to abuse. Some 300,000 people turned out for Mr. Qadri’s highly charged funeral.

Khadim Rizvi, then a little-known firebrand cleric at a small mosque in Lahore, seized on the moment, using social media to build a following and launch a group called Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah, or Movement in Response to God’s Prophet’s Call.

A Pakistani security force helicopter patrols over the tomb of Mumtaz Qadri, who was hanged in February 2016 for killing a politician who had sought to make Pakistan’s blasphemy laws less open to abuse, on the outskirts of Islamabad on March 1, one year after Mr. Qadri’s funeral.Photo: AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images

In recent weeks, Mr. Rizvi made the group a political party, which came third in two by-elections, ahead of long-established parties.

“There’s a big conspiracy, coming from Europe, to take Pakistan towards liberalism,” Mr. Rizvi said in an interview in November. He said there can be no forgiveness for blasphemy, and no punishment for anyone who kills a blasphemer.

In November, Mr. Rizvi led a three-week sit-in protest in Islamabad to directly challenge the government and Mr. Sharif’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N party.

His group has drawn most of its followers from the Barelvi sect of Islam, which is followed by the majority of Pakistan’s population and has been largely moderate, resistant to the militancy spawned by purist forms of the religion. Mr. Rizvi represents one arm of a broader anti-blasphemy movement that isn’t yet unified, but is now organizing.

The U.S. had viewed the Barelvi as a moderate bulwark against militancy, and in 2009 gave a Barelvi group a $36,000 grant to organize a rally against the Pakistani Taliban, according to the State Department. That group, the Sunni Ittehad Council, is now also part of the anti-blasphemy movement.

The Barelvi venerate the Prophet Muhammad with an absolute devotion, making a perceived insult an inflammatory issue.

The funeral of Mashal Khan, a student who was killed by his classmates in April after he described himself as a “humanist,” in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in northwest Pakistan. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Mr. Rizvi is an upstart in the Barelvi world, which doesn’t have a single leader. But his influence is pushing the sect in a harder direction.

The head of a Barelvi seminary in Lahore said the message of tolerance he tries to teach to his students can’t compete with the fiery oratory they hear online from Mr. Rizvi.

An accusation of heresy in Pakistan can trigger a mob: In April, a university student who described himself as a humanist was beaten to death by other students in the northwest of the country. A later police investigation found no blasphemy had been committed by the student.

In the November protests in Islamabad, Mr. Rizvi’s group won concessions including the resignation of the law minister and positions for group representatives on the education boards that decide on the contents of school textbooks.

An editorial in Dawn, a leading daily newspaper, described the agreement as “a surrender so abject that the mind is numb and the heart sinks.”

Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal on Tuesday said the deal “was not desirable but there was little choice,” as religious riots would have followed.

Members of Mr. Sharif’s party privately accuse the powerful military, which has long allied itself with radical religious clerics, of backing Mr. Rizvi’s protest to further weaken an administration that has been critical of the armed forces. The military didn’t respond to a request for comment, but has in recent years insisted it no longer interferes in politics.

Related

  • Pakistanis Throng Funeral of Man Hanged for Killing Critic of Blasphemy Laws
  • Curfews, Obligatory Prayers, Whippings: Hard-Line Islam Emerges in Indonesia
  • Pakistani Government’s Deal With Islamist Protesters Signals Weakening Stance

The blasphemy laws apply to Muslims and non-Muslims in Pakistan. In Punjab province, Mr. Sharif’s home region and the place where most blasphemy cases are registered, between 2011 and November 2017 there were 1,572 blasphemy charges filed, according to police figures.

The number of cases in Punjab had dropped after 2015 because of a procedural change that means only a senior police officer can now register a case, provincial officials said. A band of lawyers has organized to bring blasphemy prosecutions pro bono.

The blasphemy wave has spread watchfulness and paranoia. Cases are often concocted to settle personal scores, human-rights groups said.

Pakistan’s telecoms regulator has twice this year sent text messages to all cellphone users asking citizens to report blasphemy committed online. This year, a Muslim man was sentenced to death by a Pakistani court over a blasphemous Facebook post.

A professor of Urdu literature is currently on trial for blasphemy for asking his class, in a lesson on a poem on a religious theme, to consider whether the Quran’s description of heaven was to be taken literally or metaphorically.

“In my religion, there isn’t any room for ‘free speech’,” said Rao Abdul Rahim, an Islamabad-based lawyer who specializes in prosecuting alleged blasphemers.

Write to Saeed Shah at saeed.shah@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/drive-to-halt-insults-against-islam-gains-political-clout-in-pakistan-1512216000

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Khadim Hussain Rizvi, leader of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan an Islamist political party, attends Friday prayers during a sit-in in Rawalpindi, Pakistan November 17, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood Reuters

Pakistani Government’s Deal With Islamist Protesters Signals Weakening Stance

November 27, 2017

Agreement with protesters, brokered by the military, bolsters standing of armed forces, critics say

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—Pakistan’s decision to accept the demands of Islamist protesters who had blocked a main road into Islamabad, leading to a deadly showdown over the weekend, has further set back the South Asian nation’s struggle to restrain the rise of religious hard-liners.

After failing to break up the protests in a crackdown on Saturday, which led to at least seven deaths and 260 injured, Islamabad  bowed to the key demand of protesters, the resignation of the law minister.

The agreement with the protesters, which was brokered by the military, bolstered the standing of the armed forces while weakening the stance of an already-fragile government, critics said.

“The scale of appeasement is breathtaking,” said Farzana Shaikh, author of the book Making Sense of Pakistan. “This is a humiliating defeat for the government and a country of more than 200 million that has been held to ransom.”

The protests started peacefully when activists from a mainstream sect of Islam descended on the outskirts of Islamabad on Nov. 7, blocking a major entry route to the capital, saying they were there to defend the honor of the Prophet Muhammad and prevent blasphemy.

They said proposed legislation had tried to water down an oath that parliamentarians take, swearing Muhammad was the final prophet. They blamed Law Minister Zahid Hamid for the change and demanded he quit.

The protesters are from the mainstream Barelvi sect of Islam and organized around a group called Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah, which formed a political party in recent weeks. The group aims to maintain Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws, which carry the death penalty for anyone insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

The government decided to act on Saturday and sent around 8,000 police and paramilitary to clear the road of thousands of protesters. The crackdown just sparked further protests elsewhere in the country, including Karachi and Lahore, its two biggest cities. The government shut down private news broadcasts as well as social media including Facebook and Twitter.

The eventual deal to diffuse the crisis exposed the tension between the civilian government and the military.

Some government officials privately said that they were forced to agree with the protesters after the military didn’t come to the government’s aid.

As violence escalated late Saturday, the government asked for help from the army. But the military didn’t deploy around the protest and said it should be resolved peacefully.

The government then switched from trying to break up the protests to negotiating with the protesters and giving into their demands.

The protesters Monday said they had negotiated with the military and refused to deal with the government.

“If the government wants to stay in power, they will now have learnt lessons that they can only stay if they kowtow to the military’s wishes and commands,” said Asma Jahangir, a leading human-rights lawyer.

The military had said late Saturday that the police operation hadn’t been handled well but warned in a letter to the government that its troops weren’t well-suited to riot control, as “employment of army implies application of a force which is traditionally not just used for dispersal of crowd / protesters.”

The military didn’t respond to a request for comment on Monday.

The government has been struggling since the courts earlier this year ousted Nawaz Sharif as prime minister. Mr. Sharif, whose party remains in office, has repeatedly said the military establishment is the force behind his removal, an allegation it denies.

A State Department spokesperson on Sunday said the U.S. was monitoring the situation closely. Defense secretary Jim Mattis is expected to visit Islamabad for talks next week.

Write to Saeed Shah at saeed.shah@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/pakistani-governments-deal-with-islamist-protesters-signals-weakening-stance-1511800027

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Under pressure from Islamists, Pakistan’s law minister quits; hardliners end protests — Who Runs Pakistan? — Military refuses to respond to orders

November 27, 2017
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TIMESOFINDIA.COM | Updated: Nov 27, 2017, 13:47 IST

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The hardline protesters wanted the minister to resign for what they said was a deliberate modification to the oath of office taken by politicians
  • They said the change in wording of the oath of office amounted to blasphemy.
  • The modification was called a “clerical error” and immediately removed but that didn’t satisfy the hardliners

Under pressure from Islamists, Pakistan's law minister quits; hardliners end protests

NEW DELHI: Pakistan‘s law minister Zahid Hamid resigned late on Sunday to bring the country “out of a state of crisis” after weeks-long protests by Islamists who said he “blasphemed”, reported Pakistani media.

The Islamists ended their three-week-long protests after Hamid’s resignation. The Pakistani government and the protesters had earlier agreed the latter would end the protests if he resigned.

“Our main demand has been accepted,” said Ejaz Ashrafi, spokesman of the Tahreek-e-Labaik Islamist group, to Reuters. “Government will announce the lawminister ‘s resignation and we will end our sit-in today.” he added.

The hardline protesters wanted Hamid to resign for what they said was a deliberate modification to the oath of office taken by politicians. They said the change amounted to blasphemy. The modification was called a “clerical error” and immediately removed but that didn’t satisfy the hardline Muslim fundamentalists.

“I made the decision to resign in a personal capacity,” Hamid was quoted as saying by government sources, reported Dawn.

The government’s agreement with the hardliners followed a two-day face-off at Faizabad Interchange – gateway between the twin Pakistani cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad – and other parts of the country between protesters and security forces that saw at least six people killed and hundreds injured.

On Sunday, the hardliners clashed with security forces in Pakistan’s capital and other cities officials said, paralysing Islamabad a day after a failed clearing operation killed several people and wounded some 150, reported Reuters yesterday.

The religious activists burned several vehicles outside the capital before withdrawing in an uneasy stand-off at a protest camp they have occupied for two weeks, police said.

Despite orders from the civilian government to the army on Saturday night to help restore order, no military troops were at the scene around the protest camp in Faizabad, on the outskirts of the capital, witnesses said.

The military’s press department did not respond to queries about the government’s order.

On Sunday evening, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqabal said the paramilitary Rangers force would be authorised to handle the demonstrations.

(With inputs from Agencies)

In Video: ‘Blasphemous’ Pak minister quits under pressure from Islamists

Pakistan minister resigns after violent Islamist protests

November 27, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | The resignation of Pakistan’s law minister Zahid Hamid is a key demand of the little known Islamist group that has virtually paralysed Islamabad since it began a sit-in on a major highway into the capital on November 6

ISLAMABAD (AFP) – Pakistan’s law minister Zahid Hamid has resigned, state media reported Monday, meeting a key demand of Islamist protesters who have clashed violently with security forces and blockaded the capital Islamabad for weeks.Hamid “has submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to steer the country out of crisis,” the state-run news agency Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) said in a report citing unnamed official sources, without giving further details.

State television station PTV also reported the minister’s resignation, without citing any sources.

There was no immediate confirmation or comment from government officials.

Hamid’s resignation was a key demand of the little known Islamist group that has virtually paralysed Islamabad since it began a sit-in on a major highway into the capital on November 6.

The Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah Pakistan (TLY) have been calling for Hamid’s ousting for weeks over a hastily-abandoned amendment to the oath that election candidates must swear.

The protesters have linked it to blasphemy — a highly contentious issue in Muslim Pakistan that has often fuelled violence.

On Saturday security forces attempted to clear the roughly 2,000 demonstrators at the sit-in in a botched operation that devolved into violence, with at least seven people killed and hundreds wounded before they were ordered to retreat.

The clashes fuelled more protests in other cities, including Pakistan’s two largest Karachi and Lahore, and saw thousands more demonstrators arrive on the streets of Islamabad.

The government called on the army to intervene to restore order late Saturday. By Monday morning there still had been no official response from the military.

The reports of Hamid’s resignation raised hopes that the protest leaders would end the sit-in, which has enraged commuters with hours-long traffic snarls, caused the death of at least one child whose ambulance could not reach hospital in time, and infuriated the judiciary.

Numbers were dwindling at the Islamabad protest site early Monday, with AFP reporters saying around 2,500 demonstrators remained. Leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi had not yet arrived as Hamid’s resignation was reported.

The minister’s ousting is the latest in a series of heavy blows to the beleaguered Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) government as general elections approach in 2018.

In July, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was deposed by the courts over graft allegations, while finance minister Ishaq Dar — also accused of corruption — has taken indefinite medical leave.

bur-ks-mmg-ds-st/ceb

Pakistan’s Security Forces Clash With Islamist Protesters

November 25, 2017

More than 170 people were injured as the government tried to disperse demonstrators in Islamabad

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—More than 170 people were injured on the outskirts of Islamabad Saturday after security forces tried to clear a protest by Islamist activists who had blocked a main road into Pakistan’s capital for more than two weeks.

Thousands of police and paramilitary personnel used tear gas, water cannons and baton charges to disperse protesters, who fought back by throwing stones, according to the interior minister.

 

 https://www.wsj.com/articles/pakistans-security-forces-clash-with-islamist-protesters-1511622094
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The Washington Post
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Pakistan launches crackdown on religious protesters, setting off violent clashes

  
Hundreds were arrested and their tents and belongings at a highway interchange were set afire after religious leaders ignored orders to disperse.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Security forces launched a repeatedly postponed crackdown on thousands of religious protesters here early Saturday, surrounding their encampment on a major urban highway and firing tear gas and rubber bullets at the angry demonstrators, who fought back with clubs and pelted police with stones from slingshots.

Hundreds of people were arrested, and their tents and belongings at a highway interchange were set afire, sending clouds of smoke into the air. Officials said numerous police and other security forces were injured or disabled by tear gas. Ambulances rushed to and from the scene, and helicopters circled overhead. Officials warned residents to remain indoors as clashes continued for hours, and all regional hospitals were ordered on emergency alert.

The assault had been expected for days, as religious leaders refused government orders to disperse and ignored repeated deadlines. The demonstrations began three weeks ago and have grown steadily, with emotionally charged crowds calling for the removal of a cabinet minister. They are upset about a previous proposed change in election laws that weakened requirements for all candidates to swear they believe that Muhammad was the final Islamic prophet.

Despite the presence of thousands of security forces, protesters continued to resist or escape them throughout the day, with some leaders and others wearing gas masks. Meanwhile, supporters in Karachi, Lahore and other cities rallied in separate demonstrations, creating a growing sense of confrontation and loss of government control. Some security officials reportedly called for martial law to be imposed, although the army said it would act only on civilian orders.

“The fight with the police is in the streets, and they are on the run. We are winning and we will be on the roads as long as the government stays,” said Sayed Sabtain, 26, a protester in the crowd Saturday morning. “Earlier this was about the law minister resigning, but now all the government has to go. If they think they can defeat us with bullets, we are here to die for the respect of the prophet.”

A police officer fires rubber bullets to disperse protesters during a clash in Islamabad. Pakistani police have launched an operation to clear an intersection linking capital Islamabad with the garrison city of Rawalpindi where an Islamist group’s supporters have camped out for the last 20 days. (Anjum Naveed/AP)

The protests, which have blocked traffic for days on the major expressway between the federal capital and the neighboring garrison city of Rawalpindi, are led by a radical Islamic group that is dedicated to revering the prophet Muhammad and to upholding strict laws against religious blasphemy. It was formed two years ago and built a cult movement around Mumtaz Qadri, a bodyguard who assassinated a provincial governor in 2011 for defending a woman accused of blasphemy. Qadri was hanged for murder last year, and supporters built an ornate shrine to him on the outskirts of the capital.

The group, called the Movement in Service to the Finality of the Prophet, was once viewed as a strictly religious fringe group, but it has also recently become involved in politics, fielding candidates in two parliamentary elections. It claims to be peaceful and nonideological, and it has been steadily gaining support among the Muslim populace. Pakistan, a poor country of 207 million, is 95 percent Muslim. The movement also crusades against Ahmedis, a religious minority that claims to be Muslim but follows a 19th-century prophet, and it has accused the government of favoring Ahmedis by trying to change the election law.

In recent days, as hundreds of thousands of people have been prevented from getting to work, school and home by the traffic snarls, the government headed by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has attempted to negotiate with the protest leaders, but they refused to back down from demanding that the federal law minister, Zahid Hamid, be fired for allegedly engineering the proposed change in the electoral law.

Officials have apologized for the proposed law change, attributing it to a “clerical error,” but have been reluctant to use force against the protesters, even after the Islamabad High Court called the protest illegal and an “act of terror” against the public. For the past three days, officials threatened to forcibly disperse the protesters but then gave them more time. On Thursday, the Islamabad court threatened to hold the federal interior minister with contempt of court for failing to evict them. The government then gave a final dispersal deadline of midnight Friday, and at dawn the police assault commenced.

Pakistan police fire rubber bullets to disperse Islamist sit-in

November 25, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Activists of the hardline Islamist group Tehreek-i-Labaik Yah Rasool Allah Pakistan have virtually paralysed Pakistan’s capital Islamabad for weeks

ISLAMABAD (AFP) – Pakistani forces fired rubber bullets and lobbed tear gas at protesters in Islamabad Saturday as they moved to disperse an Islamist sit-in that has virtually paralysed the country’s capital for weeks.
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The roughly 8,500 elite police and paramilitary troops in riot gear began clearing the 2,000 or so demonstrators soon after dawn, with nearby roads and markets closed.

The sit-in by the little-known hardline group called Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah Pakistan has blocked a main highway used by thousands of commuters since November 6, causing hours-long traffic snarls and enraging commuters.

Image may contain: 5 people, people sitting

Khadim Hussain Rizvi, leader of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan an Islamist political party, attends Friday prayers during a sit-in in Rawalpindi, Pakistan November 17, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood Reuters

The protesters are demanding that Pakistan’s law minister Zahid Hamid resign over a hastily-abandoned amendment to the oath that election candidates must swear.

Demonstrators have linked it to blasphemy — a highly contentious issue in Muslim Pakistan — and claim the oath was softened to enable the participation of Ahmadis, a long-persecuted Islamic minority sect.

AFP reporters at the scene said small scuffles had broken out as protesters hurled rocks at police. Others were detained as security forces began to clear the site. Some ambulances could be seen in the area but it was not clear if there had been any injuries.

Television images showed people standing on top of freight containers that had blocked the roads around the sit-in, and plumes of smoke filling the air.

An Islamabad police official said that the operation sought to avoid any loss of life on either side.

The sit-in has already cost the life of at least one eight-year-old child whose ambulance could not reach a hospital in time due to the blocked roads, a statement from Pakistan’s Supreme Court confirmed this week.

Despite the protest’s relatively small size, authorities have hesitated to act against it, citing fears of violence as the demonstrators have vowed to die for their cause.

But government inaction has drawn the fury of the courts as well as millions of residents in Islamabad and neighbouring Rawalpindi. The Supreme Court and the Islamabad High Court have issued blistering criticism and threatened to hold officials in contempt for their inaction.

Analysts and critics have accused the government of bungling its response to the protest, and allowing a minor issue to grow into a headline-grabbing and potentially dangerous situation.

It set an alarming precedent, that “anytime anyone is upset with the government, the capital may be choked and the government will bend its knees,” warned Zeeshan Salahuddin of the Center for Research and Security Studies, a think tank in Islamabad.

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Pakistan issues ‘last warning’ to Islamists blocking entrance to capital

November 17, 2017

Image may contain: 5 people, people sitting

Khadim Hussain Rizvi, leader of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan an Islamist political party, attends Friday prayers during a sit-in in Rawalpindi, Pakistan November 17, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood Reuters

By Asif Shahzad

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan’s government on Friday issued a final warning to members of a hard-line Islamist party who have blocked a main road into the capital since last week, raising fears of a violent clash as they refuse to budge.

Hundreds of supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan party have been blocked the road to Islamabad for nearly 10 days, demanding that the minister of law be sacked for what they term blasphemy.

“You all are being given a last warning,” the Islamabad deputy commissioner said in the order.

A court had already ordered the party to end the protest, the order added. “After this final announcement, you all are being warned to end the illegal sit in immediately.”

Tehreek-e-Labaik blames the minister, Zahid Hamid, for changes to an electoral oath that it says amounts to blasphemy. The government puts the issue down to a clerical error.

Pakistan’s blasphemy law has become a lightning rod for Islamists, especially since 2011 when the liberal governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, was murdered by a bodyguard for questioning the law that mandates the death penalty for insulting Islam or the Prophet Mohammad.

A spokesman for the Labaik party, Ejaz Ashrafi, refused to comply with the order.

“We’re not moving,” he told Reuters by phone form the sit-in.

A government official, Khalid Abbasi, said the protesters had set up pickets along the route they are occupying manned by party members carrying iron rods and sticks.

Since they got the warning, he said, hundreds of more party workers have joined the sit-in.

Fearing violence, the government has blocked several roads with shipping containers to corral the protesters, but that has caused hours-long traffic jams in and around the capital.

In 2007, a confrontation between authorities and supporters of radical preachers at an Islamabad mosque led to the death of more than 100 people.

“All resources can be used to break this sit-in,” the deputy commissioner’s warning said.

(Reporting by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Nick Macfie)