Posts Tagged ‘Mumtaz Qadri’

Pakistan: Imran Khan invokes blasphemy — Accused of mainstreaming extremism

July 24, 2018

Pakistan’s politicians, including PM hopeful Imran Khan, are mainstreaming extremism by invoking hardline issues like blasphemy to get votes, analysts say, warning the tactic could deepen sectarian fractures and potentially spill into violence.

Image result for Imran Khan, photos

Imran Khan

The warnings come as Pakistan confronts anger over a new wave of militant attacks which have killed 175 people at campaign events ahead of nationwide polls on July 25.

The country’s long-persecuted religious minorities are on their guard as a result.

“Previously it was only a bunch of extremists spreading hatred against Ahmadis,” said Amir Mehmood, a member of a community which has long been targeted by extremists in Pakistan, particularly over blasphemy.

“Now mainstream parties like the PTI (Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) are doing it.”

© AFP | Election posters of one of the candidates of a Sunni Muslim religious party feature an image of the police guard who killed a former Punjab governor for his liberal stance on blasphemy

Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims, but their beliefs are seen as blasphemous in most mainstream Islamic schools of thought. They are designated non-Muslims in Pakistan’s constitution.

Khan, the cricketer-turned-politician who is the main challenger in the election, has caused concern in recent weeks with his full-throated defence of Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws, which carry a maximum penalty of death.

It is a hugely inflammatory charge in Pakistan. The state has never executed a blasphemy convict, but mere accusations of insulting Islam have sparked mob lynchings and murders.

International rights groups have long criticised the colonial-era legislation as a tool of oppression and abuse, particularly against minorities. In recent years, it has also been weaponised to smear dissenters and even politicians.

The topic is so incendiary that mere calls to reform the law have provoked violence, most notably the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s most populous province, by his own bodyguard in 2011.

The assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, was angered by Taseer’s reformist stance on blasphemy. Feted as a hero by hardliners, he was executed by the incumbent Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government in 2016, provoking Islamist fury.

Image result for Mumtaz Qadri, photos

Mumtaz Qadri

– ‘There is a shift’ –

Now Qadri’s image is being used on election banners, and some of Khan’s candidates are asking Pakistanis if they plan to vote for “the party who executed him”, placing themselves firmly on the side of Islamists.

At one rally in Islamabad this month, Khan told clerics in televised comments that the PTI “fully” supports the blasphemy law “and will defend it”.

“No Muslim can call himself a Muslim unless he believes that the Prophet Mohammed is the last prophet,” he said — a statement that raised alarm among Ahmadis, who are persecuted for their belief in a prophet after Mohammed.

Analyst Amir Rana says “there is a shift” in this election: “The mainstream political parties are also exploiting the religious narrative.”

He predicts this change would deepen sectarian divides, empower radical groups, and could provoke violence.

Khan may simply be trying to target the PML-N with his comments on blasphemy, says minority activist Kapil Dev.

But when the potential next prime minister of the country shares an inflammatory stance with extremists, “people take it seriously”, Dev warned.

Jibran Nasir, a prominent human rights activist running as an independent candidate in the southern city of Karachi, is already facing threats over the issue.

Islamist hardliners stormed his election events and warned him not to campaign in the area over his refusal to denounce Ahmadis.

In a video posted online, one cleric in Nasir’s constituency is seen referencing the assassin Qadri in a threatening speech.

– ‘Heretics’ –

Organisations like Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), which blockaded the capital Islamabad for weeks last year over blasphemy, are widely contesting the polls.

The party’s chief, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, reportedly told journalists in Karachi that if he took power in the nuclear-armed country he would “wipe Holland off the face of the earth” over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

Other radical groups contesting the vote include Sunni sectarian extremists Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), and the Milli Muslim League, linked to Hafiz Saeed, the man accused of masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Image result for Hafiz Saeed, photos

Hafiz Saeed

“If we get power in the evening and if a single Shia is alive by the morning in Pakistan then change my name,” ASWJ leader Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi told an election rally.

Both groups have been banned from the election but their candidates are contesting under the banner of other, lesser-known parties.

The analyst Rana suggested PTI and Khan may also be trying to weaken the appeal of radical religious groups by co-opting their rhetoric.

But if he really is seeking to cut support for these parties, it will only increase the appeal of extremism, warns the Ahmadi activist Mehmood.

In his town of Rabwah in central Pakistan, a hub of the Ahmadi community, residents say not one politician has visited its 40,000 registered voters this campaign season.

“Nobody dares to come here,” Mehmood says. “They will be considered heretics.”



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.

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.


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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



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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

Pakistan Calls A Halt To Anti-Protest Operation After 7 Killed, 260 Injured

November 26, 2017

After bloodshed, police backed off protesters calling for a government minister’s resignation

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—An operation to clear a protest by Islamist activists in the capital was on hold Sunday morning after at least seven people were killed and 260 injured Saturday when protesters clashed with police and paramilitary forces.

The protesters continued to block a major road between Islamabad and the adjacent city of Rawalpindi, with new numbers joining their ranks, according to government officials and the protesters. The activists, who are calling for the resignation of a minister they say is responsible for an insult to the Prophet Muhammad, have now blocked the road for more than two weeks.

Private television news channels were taken off the air and access to some social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, were blocked Saturday and remained suspended Sunday.

While the government called in the army to help restore order as the violence threatened to spiral out of control Saturday, it was unclear Sunday whether soldiers had deployed. Tension between the government and the army was already running high before the government attempted to remove the Islamist activists.

The crackdown in the capital sparked protests by sympathizers elsewhere in the country, including Karachi and Lahore, its two biggest cities. Those continued Sunday with sit-ins on roads.

Some 8,000 police and paramilitary personnel carried out the operation in Islamabad on Saturday with tear gas, baton charges and more than 140 arrests, officials said. But they couldn’t dislodge the protesters.

It was unclear when and where protesters were killed. Some had bullet wounds, according to hospital doctors.

A sit in on an Islamabad street was quiet on Sunday after bloody clashes the day before.Photo: Anjum Naveed/Associated Press

The operation was suspended Saturday night, according to security officials and Pakistan Television, the state-owned broadcaster. PTV reported Sunday that the operation was on hold “for the time being,” with paramilitary forces and police deployed some distance from the protesters.

The demonstrators say they are there to protect the dignity of the Prophet Muhammad, after legislation proposed a change in the oath that members of parliament take to swear that Muhammad was the final prophet. They have demanded the resignation of the law minister, Zahid Hamid, whom they blame for the change.

Security officials said privately that the army is wary of being dragged into the controversy, and that the army isn’t designed for riot control. The military didn’t respond to requests for comment on Sunday, but on Saturday it called for the situation be resolved peacefully.

Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal had said Saturday that government was following court orders to clear the route between Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

“The last thing Pakistan needs is the instigation of agitation using people’s religious sentiment,” said Mr. Iqbal said Saturday.

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. It campaigns on the issue of keeping in place Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws, which carry the death penalty for anyone insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

Ejaz Ashrafi, a spokesman for the group, said large numbers of people were present Sunday morning at the protest site, including their leader, Khadim Rizvi. Reporters at the site estimated the numbers at about 3,000. He said they are sticking to their demand for the minister to resign.

The South Asian nation’s democracy has been in a precarious position since the ousting of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif earlier this year. The country, a U.S. ally, has been abuzz for months with speculation about the fall of the government and the possibility that elections due next year will be postponed.

Mr. Sharif, whose party remains in office, has repeatedly pointed at the military establishment as the force behind his removal.

Write to Saeed Shah at


Islamist protesters clash with Pakistan police for second day — At least 6 dead, 25 wounded

November 26, 2017

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) – Islamist party activists on Sunday clashed with security forces for a second day on the outskirts of Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, burning vehicles before withdrawing to a protest camp they have occupied for more than two weeks, police said.

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Pakistani police officer aims his gun towards the protesters next to a burning police vehicle during a clash in Islamabad Pakistan.|PTI

According media reports at least six people were killed on the previous day, when several thousand police and paramilitary tried to disperse a sit-in protest by the religious hard-liners, who have blocked the main route into the capital from the neighboring garrison city of Rawalpindi.

More than 125 people were wounded in Saturday’s failed crackdown, and police superintendent Amir Niazi said 80 members of the security forces were among the casualties.

On Sunday morning, smoke billowed from the charred remains of a car and three motorcycles near the protest camp, where several thousand members of the Tehreek-e-Labaid party have gathered in defiance.

Police and paramilitary forces had surrounded the camp in the Faizabad district between the two cities, but no army troops were on the scene, despite a call the night before by the civilian government for the military to help restore order.

”We will move when we have orders,“ Niazi, the police superintendent, said on Saturday. ”What the protesters did yesterday was in no means was lawful. They attacked our forces.”

Pakistani residents walk past a burning prison van torched by protesters during clashes with police in Rawalpindi on November 25. (AFP)

Activists from Tehreek-e-Labaik have blocked the main road into the capital for two weeks, accusing the law minister of blasphemy against Islam and demanding his dismissal and arrest.

“We are in our thousands. We will not leave. We will fight until end,” Tehreek-e-Labaik party spokesman Ejaz Ashrafi told Reuters on Saturday.

Tehreek-e-Labaik is one of two new ultra-religious political movements that became prominent in recent months.

While Islamist parties are unlikely to win a majority they could play a major role in elections that must be held by summer next year.

Tehreek-e-Laibak was born out of a protest movement lionizing Mumtaz Qadri, a bodyguard of the governor of Punjab province who gunned down his boss in 2011 over his call to reform strict blasphemy laws.

The party won a surprisingly strong 7.6 percent of the vote in a by-election in Peshawar last month.

Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore


Pakistan government calls in army as Islamist protests spread

November 25, 2017


© Aamir Qureshi, AFP | An injured activist from the Tehreek-i-Labaik Yah Rasool Allah Pakistan (TLYRAP) religious group is carried away from clashes with police in Islamabad on November 25, 2017.


Latest update : 2017-11-25

Pakistan’s government on Saturday called on the army to help clear a sit-in by Islamist hard-liners blockading the capital after police clashed with activists and religious protests spread to other cities.

Dozens of people were injured in Saturday’s clashes, including many police, according to reports from hospitals. Protesters said four of their activists had been killed, but police said there had been no deaths.

By nightfall, protests spread to other main cities with activists brandishing sticks and attacking cars in some areas.

 TV: Army summoned to disperse Islamist sit-ins

Pakistani police launch operation to clear Islamist rally

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Police launched an operation to clear an intersection linking the Pakistani capital Islamabad with the garrison city of Rawalpindi where an Islamist group’s suppo

New demonstrators had joined the camp in Faizabad, just outside Islamabad, in a stand-off with police.

Private TV stations were ordered off the air, with only state-run television broadcasting.

Activists from Tehreek-e-Labaik, a new hard-line Islamist political party, have blockaded the main road into the capital for two weeks, accusing the law minister of blasphemy against Islam and demanding his dismissal and arrest.

“We are in our thousands. We will not leave. We will fight until end,” Tehreek-e-Labaik party spokesman Ejaz Ashrafi told Reuters by telephone from the scene.

Tehreek-e-Labaik is one of two new ultra-religious political movements that have risen up in recent months and seem set to play a major role in elections that must be held by summer next year, though they are unlikely to win a majority.

Chaos and “conspiracy”

Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal told Reuters in a message on Saturday night that the government had “requisitioned” the military assistance “for law and order duty according to the constitution”.

The ruling party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif – who was disqualified by the Supreme Court in July and is facing a corruption trial – has a fraught history with the military, which in 1999 launched a coup to oust Sharif from an earlier term.

Earlier in the day, Iqbal said the protests were part of a conspiracy to weaken the government, which is now run by Sharif’s allies under a new prime minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.

“There are attempts to create a chaos in (the) country,” Iqbal said on state-run Pakistan TV.

“I have to say with regret that a political party that is giving its message to people based on a very sacred belief is being used in the conspiracy that is aimed at spreading anarchy in the country,” Iqbal added, without saying who he considered responsible.

Pakistan’s army chief on Saturday called on the civilian government to end the protest while “avoiding violence from both sides”. Opposition leader Imran Khan called for early elections, saying the “incompetent and dithering” administration had allowed a breakdown of governance.

The clashes began on Saturday when police launched an operation involving some 4,000 officers to disperse around 1,000 activists and break up their camp, police official Saood Tirmizi told Reuters.

Television footage showed a police vehicle on fire, heavy curtains of smoke and fires burning in the streets as officers in heavy riot gear advanced. Protesters, some wearing gas masks, fought back in scattered battles across empty highways and surrounding neighbourhoods.

The protesters have paralysed daily life in the capital, and have defied court orders to disband.

Tehreek-e-Labaik blames the law minister, Zahid Hamid, for changes to an electoral law that changed a religious oath proclaiming Mohammad the last prophet of Islam to the words “I believe”, a change the party says amounts to blasphemy.

The government put the issue down to a clerical error and swiftly changed the language back.

Tehreek-e-Laibak was born out of a protest movement lionizing Mumtaz Qadri, a bodyguard of the governor of Punjab province who gunned down his boss in 2011 over his call to reform strict blasphemy laws.

The party won a surprisingly strong 7.6 percent of the vote in a by-election in Peshawar last month.

More join protests

The government had tried to negotiate an end to the sit-in, fearing violence during a crackdown similar to 2007, when clashes between authorities and supporters of a radical Islamabad mosque led to the deaths of more than 100 people.  Despite the police crackdown, the protesters were largely still in place by nightfall and Tehreek-e-Labaik leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi, a prominent cleric, remained at the site, party activist Mohammad Shafiq Ameeni said.

Four protesters had died in the police crackdown, he added.

By late afternoon, Tehreek-e-Labaik supporters were coming out on the streets in other Pakistani cities in support.

Police fired tear gas in Karachi, the southern port that is Pakistan’s largest city, to try to disperse about 500 demonstrators near the airport.

Outside the northwestern city of Peshawar, about 300 protesters blocked the motorway to Islamabad and started attacking vehicles with stones and sticks.

In the eastern city of Lahore, party supporters blocked three roads into the city.


Pakistan: Government tries to silence media with threats pf “blasphemy” — which is punishable by death in Pakistan — “They should be scared.”

March 18, 2017

The Associated Press

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Ahmad Waqas Goraya couldn’t see anything through the black hood, but he could hear the screams.

A Pakistani blogger with a penchant for criticizing Pakistan’s powerful military and taking the government to task, Goraya was kidnapped in January along with four other bloggers.

“I could hear the screams of torture,” he said, struggling for words as the memories flooded back. “I don’t even want to think about what they did.”

But that wasn’t the worst of it, he said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. More terrifying was the accusation of blasphemy __ punishable by death in Pakistan __ hurled at him and his fellow bloggers. They were held in what Goraya called a “black site” on the edge of Lahore that some say is run by Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency.

Analysts and social media monitors say the blasphemy law is a powerful tool to silence critics. Some say it is being used by extremists to silence moderates at a time when Pakistanis are increasingly speaking out against violence and extremism, and voicing support for a government crackdown on Islamic militants.

In Pakistan, even the suggestion of blasphemy can be tantamount to a death sentence. It has incited extremists to take the law into their own hands and kill alleged perpetrators, often forcing people to flee the country, as Goraya and the other bloggers have.

Pakistan’s government heightened concerns earlier this week when it said it had asked Facebook and Twitter to ferret out Pakistanis posting religiously offensive material, promising to seek their extradition if they are out of the country and prosecute them on blasphemy charges if they are in Pakistan.

In one high-profile case six years ago, Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer was gunned down by one of his guards, who accused him of blasphemy because he criticized the law and defended a Christian woman sentenced to death for allegedly insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

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Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of Salman Taseer. Reuters photo

“Right now they have made sure I cannot come back to Pakistan by introducing blasphemy charges,” Goraya said.

The lawyer who is arguing the case against the bloggers, Tariq Asad, has openly called for their deaths, while praising outlawed Sunni militant groups who want the country’s minority Shiites declared non-Muslims.

“They should have been killed,” Asad told the AP in an interview this week. “If I had the opportunity I would have killed them.”

Asad smiled at the suggestion that invoking the blasphemy law subdues the media and frightens social media activists.

“They should be scared,” he said.

The blasphemy charges against the bloggers being heard in Islamabad’s High Court were filed by Salman Shahid, who has ties to Pakistan’s Red Mosque, a hotbed of Islamic militancy where hundreds were killed in 2007 after security forces ended a months-long standoff with militants holed up inside. Asad is Shahid’s lawyer.

Zahid Hussain, a defense analyst and author of several books on militancy in the region, said invoking the blasphemy law is a form of “pushback” against the proliferation of news outlets and social media that amplify moderate voices.

Extremists “are trying to reassert themselves with this ideological battle and the easiest thing for them to use is the blasphemy law,” he said.

Hamid Mir, a popular Pakistani news anchor, says both media owners and journalists operate under a cloud of fear. Threats come from a variety of quarters in Pakistan, including the powerful spy agencies, but the most frightening are from those who would use the blasphemy law, he said.

Mir was shot six times in a drive-by shooting in Karachi three years ago. The culprits were later said to have been killed, but Mir pointedly accused Pakistan’s intelligence agency at the time.

“I am not afraid of bullets or bombs,” he said in an interview this week in his office in Islamabad. Even with three of the six bullets still in his body, he has refused to leave Pakistan.

But now he is having second thoughts. Last year, he was charged with blasphemy after writing a column condemning those who would kill in the name of honor following the burning death of a young girl.

“It broke me,” he said. “Here I had done nothing wrong and for four months I faced this blasphemy charge. Then I thought I should leave my country.”

Asad, the attorney prosecuting the bloggers, also argued the case against Mir.

A group of senior lawyers in Pakistan told Mir there was only one lawyer who could defend him, Rizwan Abbasi, who was defending the seven militants accused in the deadly 2008 multi-pronged assault in Mumbai, India, which killed 127 people. Abbasi had also defended Hafiz Saeed, the founder of the outlawed Lashkar-e-Taiba group and one of India’s most wanted men.

“I thought if the judge saw him by my side he would think ‘if he is with him then I won’t get into trouble if I free him,'” said Mir, explaining that judges and lawyers fear retaliation from militants if they exonerate someone of blasphemy.

But even Abbasi needed help. He had Mir send his column to five of the country’s top clerics to ask if it contained anything blasphemous. They all rejected the charge and it was dropped, but Mir says his approach to journalism has changed.

“I don’t talk about human rights any more. . . You become selective in your criticism,” he said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists and Amnesty International have spoken out against the abduction of the bloggers and expressed concerns about growing fears within Pakistan’s journalist community brought about by the use of the blasphemy law.

“It’s not the elected government that is putting pressure on the media, but journalists express fear of offending religious and militant groups, and the military and intelligence organizations,” said Steven Butler, the CPJ’s Asia program director. “The latest fear is of being labeled as ‘blasphemer’ and that this could lead to attacks.”

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif did nothing to allay fears earlier this week when he demanded a review of social media to seek out offensive content, and when his interior minister said the government had reached out to Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook said it reviews all government requests carefully, “with the goal of protecting the privacy and rights of our users.” Twitter declined to comment.

In the past, Pakistan has banned YouTube after the circulation of videos deemed offensive to Islam.

“Our argument has never been about the law, but what is most dangerous is how it is used in Pakistan,” to stifle critics and muffle moderate voices, said Haroon Baloch with the Islamabad-based internet advocacy group Bytesforall. He said radical religious groups use social media to attack moderate views, but there have been no restrictions imposed on them.

In an open letter to Pakistan’s interior minister, Amnesty International earlier this month asked that the government “protect journalists, bloggers, civil society and other human rights activists who are facing constant harassment, intimidation, threats and violent attacks in the country.”

Goraya, the blogger, is still haunted by his three weeks of captivity at the black site, where he said several cells were overcrowded with men both young and old, many of them in chains. One of his eardrums is damaged and he no longer has feeling in one hand.

“I was tortured beyond limits, beatings, different equipment used, psychological torture,” he said.




A simple accusation of blasphemy in Pakistan can be tantamount to a death sentence

January 25, 2017

BARAKHAO, Pakistan — Two ornate minarets pierce the evening sky. They frame the emerald green colored dome of an ornate shrine erected to honor Mumtaz Qadri, an assassin hanged for gunning down a politician who criticized Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law and defended a Christian woman sentenced to death for allegedly insulting Islam.

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Mumtaz Qadri’s shrine – In memory of Salmaan Taseer’s assassin – Pakistan – DAWN.COM

Qadri’s body lies in a marble-encased tomb inside the shrine. He had been a member of an elite police unit charged with protecting Punjab provincial governor Salman Taseer. Instead, he turned his AK-47 assault rifle on the politician killing him in a hail of bullets. With an eerie smile on his face he then laid down his weapon and was arrested, tried and later hanged.

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Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of Salman Taseer. Reuters photo

The shrine, which is being built on the outskirts of the federal capital, is worrisome for those in Pakistan who fear a growing tide of extremism in the country marked by brutal sectarian killings, violent protests by clerics in favor of the blasphemy law, and frightening threats to anyone who would dare to challenge it.

Five liberal-leaning bloggers who disappeared earlier this month, and the Pakistanis who are protesting their disappearance, have become the latest target of radical clerics and their followers. The clerics have accused the missing writers of blasphemy after a social media campaign linked them to allegations of blasphemy without any evidence. A simple accusation of blasphemy in Pakistan can be tantamount to a death sentence.

The government has tried to quell the allegations, saying there is no evidence that the bloggers said or did anything that could be considered blasphemous and no suggestion of any of them being charged with blasphemy once they are found.

The bloggers, whose disappearances have been decried nationally and internationally, have been critical of the military and have bemoaned the presence of radical religious militant groups in their country. No one has taken responsibility for their disappearances.

Supporters of the bloggers say that Qadri’s shrine exalts those who kill in the name of religion and makes even amending the blasphemy law to make it more difficult to abuse, a dangerous proposition.

“This is very, very unfortunate . . . that a person who has been adjudged by the highest constitutional court of Pakistan, the Supreme Court of Pakistan, as a terrorist (yet) these clerics and the innocent people of this country, they’re trying to paint him as a saint,”” said attorney Saif-ul-Mulk. “I can assure you that in the coming 10 to 20 years, he will be a saint of very high profile and billions of rupees will be coming to his shrine.”

Mulk is defending Asiya Bibi, the Christian woman who has been on death row for the last six years, and has launched a final appeal on her behalf in the Supreme Court. Bibi was charged with blasphemy after a group of women with whom she worked in the field berated her for drinking the same water as them. They argued and the women accused Bibi of insulting Islam’s prophet, a charge she flatly denies.

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Asiya Bibi

Mulk also prosecuted Qadri, securing a guilty verdict and death sentence that was carried out last year. He travels with security and police are stationed outside his home in the eastern Punjab city of Lahore.

In an interview, Mulk also warned that the financial windfall that has come with Qadri’s death risks encouraging would-be “martyrs.”

“If one person is not able to feed his parents and family, he gives his life, kills somebody big and the whole family becomes richer than they could ever dream,” he said.

For some in Pakistan, the shrine is seen as yet another tool in the arsenal of radical Sunni Muslim groups seeking to consolidate their hold over Pakistan’s 180 million people.

Ayesha Siddiqa, a defense analyst who has written extensively on Pakistan’s military complex, warned in a recent column that Qadri’s shrine will emerge as a rallying cry for the preservation of the blasphemy law, which some liberal lawmakers would like to see at least amended to make it more difficult to abuse.

“The blasphemy law is their big ticket to support amongst the masses which they would like to consolidate further with the symbol they have now erected in the form of Mumtaz Qadri’s shrine near the capital city,” Siddiqa wrote. “Last year, his family had buried him strategically in an open ground and sort of wilderness (area) to ensure that a structure could be built on top.”

Qadri’s brother, Amir Sajjad, speaking at the shrine where he spends every afternoon and evening collecting donations, said the shrine was his brother’s final wish. Sajjad said Qadri told his family he wanted a shrine built at his grave as well as a mosque and a madrassah, or religious school.

Construction has already begun on the mosque and preparations are under way for the school. Millions of rupees in donations have been collected, said Sajjad.

The roof of the shrine shimmers from the thousands of tiny mirrors inlaid throughout. A crystal chandelier revolves atop Qadri’s ornate marble grave embellished with verses from Islam’s holy book, The Quran.

Despite the construction, adherents lay their prayer mats and offer prayer. Those coming to pay homage to Qadri are a mix of men, women enveloped in large shawls, children and a handful of young students from Pakistan’s financial hub Karachi, a cosmopolitan city of 20 million people on the Arabian Sea.

They are educated and speak English but their views are hardline.

Bilal Fazl, 18, who attends university in Karachi, was filled with admiration for Qadri.

“He said the blasphemy law was a black law. It was OK to kill him,” he said of Taseer.

Fazl called Qadri a “hero of Islam.”


Follow Kathy Gannon on Twitter at

Islamists End 4-Day Rally Outside Pakistani Parliament

March 30, 2016

ISLAMABAD — Hundreds of radical Islamists who had rallied for four days in the heart of Pakistan’s capital ended their demonstrations on Wednesday hours after the government threatened to use force to disperse them.

The Islamists were protesting last month’s hanging of a policeman who had shot and killed a secular governor over his opposition to the country’s strict blasphemy laws. They had demanded strict Shariah law and the hanging of a Christian woman the governor had defended against blasphemy allegations.


© AFP/File | Supporters of executed Islamist Mumtaz Qadri shout slogans as they sit-in during an anti-government protest in front of the parliament building in Islamabad on March 28, 2016

Awais Noorani, one of the protest leaders, called on the demonstrators to disperse, saying a deal was reached with the government.

Noorul Haq Qadri, who said he had helped negotiate the deal on behalf of the protesters, said the government had given assurances that there would be no attempt to amend the blasphemy laws and that it would release all detained protesters who were not wanted on other charges.

But Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said the government had not acceded to any of the protesters’ demands. He said religious leaders had helped convince them to end their rallies.

Police have detained more than 1,000 protesters in the last four days, Khan said. He said those involved in violence would be prosecuted, while the rest would be freed after investigation.

The protests had paralyzed one of the busiest areas of Islamabad. Most of the businesses in the area and schools across the city remained closed.

More than 10,000 Islamists from Pakistan’s Sunni Tehreek group descended on Islamabad on Sunday to denounce last month’s hanging of officer Mumtaz Qadri for the 2011 murder of secular Gov. Pakistan’s Sunni Tehreek group.

Their rally turned violent and police fired tear gas on Sunday, but failed to disperse the protesters, who damaged bus stations, traffic lights and closed-circuit security cameras. The sit-in continued, but the number of protesters had dwindled to about 1,200.

Thousands of riot police and paramilitary troops had been deployed around the site, police official Nauman Alvi said. The government had warned that 7,000 security forces were ready to move in and disperse the demonstrators.

The protest comes against the backdrop of a massive suicide bombing by a breakaway Taliban faction that targeted Christians gathered for Eastern Sunday in a park in Lahore, killing 72 people, mostly Muslims.

Despite its hard-line views, the Sunni Tehreek group behind the protests in Islamabad does not carry out militant attacks.


Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed contributed to this report.

Pakistan extends deadline for Islamabad protesters to end sit-in

March 29, 2016


© AFP/File | Supporters of executed Islamist Mumtaz Qadri shout slogans as they sit-in during an anti-government protest in front of the parliament building in Islamabad on March 28, 2016

ISLAMABAD (AFP) – Pakistan has extended a deadline for Islamist protesters to end a days-long sit-in on the streets of the capital after deploying thousands of police and paramilitary forces in a show of force Tuesday night.

Several thousand demonstrators armed with sticks have been camped at Islamabad’s main Constitution Avenue close to key government buildings, including the presidency and parliament, since late Sunday.

The demonstrators, supporters of executed Islamist assassin Mumtaz Qadri, who was hanged on February 29, say they have submitted a list of demands including the execution of a female Christian blasphemy convict.

A security source had told AFP that an operation would be launched against the protesters if they did disperse by Tuesday night.

But Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan later told reporters: “If the protesters do not disperse peacefully tonight, then we will evict them in the morning in front of everyone.

“There are women and children in the protest whom they are using as human shields. There are also elderly people and if we do the operation in the night, then they might be harmed and we do not want to hurt anyone,” he added.

– Deep divisions –

AFP journalists at the scene on Tuesday did not see any women or children, where the front lines of police and protesters, who numbered around 2,000, were separated by some 100 metres.

Protesters shouted religious slogans while the leaders made fiery speeches vowing to continue their sit-in.

A legal notice issued earlier to the protesters and seen by AFP accused them of attempting “to frustrate the government’s drive against terrorism”.

A police source said more than 5,000 security forces would be deployed, including the paramilitary Rangers and Frontier Corps with reinforcements from the Punjab police.

Army troops are already standing guard at government buildings near the site.

Qadri was hanged for killing a Punjab governor over his call for blasphemy reform, in what analysts said was a “key moment” in Pakistan’s long battle against religious extremism.

But it also exposed deep religious divisions in the conservative Muslim country of 200 million.

An estimated 25,000 supporters of Qadri forced their way into the capital Sunday from its twin-city Rawalpindi, where they had gathered to offer prayers for the former police bodyguard.

By evening they were engaged in violent clashes with police and paramilitary troops, who made heavy use of tear gas in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent them from pushing closer to the city centre.

Their demands include the execution of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother-of-five who has been on death row since she was convicted in 2010 of committing blasphemy during an argument with a Muslim woman over a bowl of water.

They are also calling for Qadri to be officially declared a “martyr” and want the immediate imposition of Sharia law.

– Crackdown in Punjab –

The protests come as Pakistan mourns the 73 people killed in Sunday’s suicide attack at a park in the city of Lahore, many of them children.

Hundreds more were injured in the bombing, which targeted Christians celebrating Easter and was claimed by the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction of the Pakistani Taliban, whose official name is the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Authorities have conducted numerous raids since the attack, detaining more than 200 people, after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed to bring those behind the carnage to justice.

“More than 5,000 people were searched and interrogated and most of them were allowed to go, but some 216 have been apprehended for further investigations,” Punjab provincial law minister Rana Sanaullah told reporters Tuesday.

Sanaullah said police, paramilitary troops and intelligence agents had launched 56 intelligence operations in the last 24 hours in Punjab.Brazil’s embattled president cancels Washington trip: state news agency

More were being carried out across the province “against sectarian militants and extremists”, he said.

But Jamaat-ul-Ahrar spokesman Ehansullah Ehsan took to Twitter to deride the prime minister.

“After the Lahore attack, Nawaz Sharif repeated old words to give himself false assurances,” he wrote.

“Nawaz Sharif should know that war has reached his doorstep, and God willing the mujahideen will be the winners in this war.”