Posts Tagged ‘blasphemy’

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

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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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

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)

Pakistan police arrest dozens from Islamist party blocking entrance to capital — “If this cannot be resolved, the roads will have to be cleared.”

November 14, 2017

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Members of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan, an Islamist political party, shout slogans during a sit-in in Rawalpindi, Pakistan November 13, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood Reuters

By Asif Shahzad and and Mubasher Bukhari

ISLAMABAD/LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistani police have arrested dozens of members of a hard-line Islamist party that has blocked a main entrance to the capital since last week, a provincial spokesman said, in the latest confrontation between religious activists and authorities.

Hundreds of supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan party have blocked a main road to Islamabad since Friday, threatening violence if their demand that the minister of law be sacked is not met.

The group 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 Punjab provincial government, Malik Muhammad Ahmed Khan, told Reuters the protests were a “serious inconvenience for people and disturbing public life” in the province that surrounds Islamabad.

“The Punjab government has detained dozens of Tehreek-e-Labaik’s activists from various districts,” he said.

Labaik spokesman Ejaz Ashrafi said in a statement police arrested hundreds of its workers in a countrywide swoop, mainly in the party’s base in Punjab.

Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal late on Monday urged the protesters to call off the sit-in, saying he hoped the government “wouldn’t be forced to take extreme steps”.

One security source said the protesters detained several policemen, seized their weapons and mistreated them.

“The abduction of the police is a heinous crime,” Iqbal said in a statement.

Police have accused the protesters, who are occupying the main artery between the capital and the nearby city of Rawalpindi, of throwing stones at them.

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

Minister of state for interior affairs Talal Chaudhry said the government had refused to accept the demand to sack the minister, and instead had ordered police to block any more Labaik supporters or leaders from joining the protest.

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

“We’re still trying to resolve this issue through dialogue but the situation is becoming intolerable,” Chaudhry, told reporters.

“If this cannot be resolved, the roads will have to be cleared.”

(Writing by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Statue of Chinese god stokes tension in Muslim-majority Indonesia

August 11, 2017

Reuters

TUBAN, Indonesia (Reuters) – Indonesia has urged officials to stand up to mob pressure after Muslim and nationalist protesters called for a 30-metre-tall (100-ft-) statue of a Chinese deity erected in a temple complex in an East Java town to be torn down.

The brightly-painted statue of Guan Yu, a former general who is worshipped by some Chinese, was inaugurated in July in a temple complex in the fishing town of Tuban and is claimed to be Southeast Asia’s tallest such representation of the deity.

The statue in Tuban, about 100 km (60 miles) west of the city of Surabaya, has been partially covered up after the protests, provoking both praise and ridicule on social media in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.

“If they ask for the statue to be torn down, authorities cannot bow to such pressure,” Teten Masduki, chief of staff to President Joko Widodo, told reporters.

Protesters demonstrated this week outside Surabaya’s parliament against the statue, some wearing paramilitary-style outfits and waving placards that read “Demolish It” and “We are not worshippers of idols”.

Allowing a depiction of a foreign general was “a symbol of treason to this nation,” an unnamed protester said in a video of the rally on news portal Kompas.com.

Officials of the Kwan Sing Bio Temple in Tuban declined to comment, but media have quoted residents as saying the statue was good for tourism.

Indonesia is a secular state whose constitution enshrines religious freedom and diversity, but there are concerns that rising intolerance threatens its reputation for moderate Islam.

Muslims form about 85 percent of the population, but there are also substantial Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and other minorities.

Religious tension has soared this year after Islamist-led rallies saw Jakarta’s incumbent governor, a member of a so-called double minority who is ethnic Chinese and Christian, put on trial during city elections over Koran insult allegations.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama was later jailed for two years for blasphemy, a sentence rights groups and international bodies condemned as unfair and politicized.

The protests against the statue were primarily about nationalism, said Suli Da’im, a lawmaker in East Java.

“What they were protesting about is that the statue did not represent their general or commander,” he said, adding that a permit for the statue had also not yet been approved.

The fate of the statue, reported to have cost 2.5 billion rupiah ($190,000) to build, has sparked sparring on social media.

“Praise be to God, the noisy fighting in social media succeeded in ensuring the idolatrous statue has been covered. I hope it will soon be taken down,” Muhammad Syahrir, using the handle @Muhamma37029013, said on social network Twitter.

Another Twitter user ridiculed the protesters.

“Like they have nothing else to do but to protest against a statue,” said Paring Waluyo, under the handle @paringwaluyo. “Instead they should be protesting about Tuban being among the poor regencies of East Java.”

($1=13,368.0000 rupiah)

Additional reporting by Stefanno Reinard and Gayatri Suroyo in Jakarta; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

See also:

In Indonesia, Chinese Deity Is Covered in Sheet After Muslims Protest