Dozens of protesters were arrested as they clashed with police in an ongoing crackdown against followers of a religious party leader, who had led three days of nationwide protests following the acquittal of a Christian woman in a blasphemy case.
Members of Muslim leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi’s Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) party had shut down major cities in protest earlier this month after Aasia Bibi, who had spent eight years on death row on blasphemy charges, was acquitted.
At least five people were wounded in last night’s clashes between Rizvi’s supporters and police in the eastern city of Lahore after police arrested the religious leader on Friday night.
A spokesperson for the Punjab chief minister’s office said Rizvi’s second-in-command, Afzal Qadri, had also been detained.
“Afzal Qadri and Khadim Rizvi have been sent to jail. Qadri has been admitted to the jail’s hospital. A crackdown is under way across Punjab against TLP activists,” Shahbaz Gill told Reuters.
Information Minister Fawwad Chaudhry said on Twitter that Rizvi had been placed in protective custody after he refused to withdraw a call for further protests on Sunday.
“It’s to safeguard public life, property and order,” he said.
A police document seen by Reuters listed 10 other leaders of Rizvi’s group who had also been detained.
The TLP had demanded Bibi’s public execution, while Afzal Qadri called for the overthrow of the Pakistan government over the controversy.
TLP leaders had also threatened the Supreme Court judges who acquitted Aasia Bibi – urging their cooks and servants to kill them.
The protests ended only after the government agreed to a Supreme Court review of Bibi’s acquittal.
Bibi and her family are in hiding after her release. She was convicted in 2010 for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbours objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim. She has always denied committing blasphemy.
Her family has requested asylum, which has been offered by several countries including Canada, Spain and France.