Pakistan arrests TLP leader behind blasphemy protests

Khadim Hussain Rizvi, whose TLP party held massive protests against Aasia Bibi's acquittal, has been arrested.

    Tehreek-e-Labbaik leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi was arrested in Lahore on Friday [B.K. Bangash/AP]
    Tehreek-e-Labbaik leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi was arrested in Lahore on Friday [B.K. Bangash/AP]

    Pakistani authorities have arrested the leader of a religious party which had disrupted daily life with nationwide rallies following the acquittal of a Christian woman in a blasphemy case.

    The son of Khadim Hussain Rizvi, leader of the right-wing Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) party, said his father was taken away on Friday in a nighttime raid on his religious school in the eastern city of Lahore.

    "Police raided our school and arrested our revered leader," Saad Rizvi told the Reuters news agency.

    The TLP said in a statement that Rizvi was arrested along with scores of supporters, according to a report by The Associated Press.

    In a tweet, Pakistan's Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said Rizvi "has been taken into protective custody and shifted to a guest house".

    "The action was prompted by TLP's refusal to withdraw its call for protest on November 25. It's to safeguard public life, property and order," the minister said.

    Rizvi has called his party members to observe "martyrs' day" on Sunday by holding a rally in the capital, Islamabad, Pakistan's Dawn newspaper said.

    Chaudhry, however, said the arrest "has nothing to do with the Aasia Bibi case".

    Right-wing protests over blasphemy

    Rizvi's TLP was at the forefront of a nationwide protest against the acquittal of Pakistani Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, in a blasphemy case by the country's Supreme Court last month.

    The TLP had demanded Bibi's public execution, while the party's founder, Mohammad Afzal Qadri, called for the death of the three Supreme Court judges who ruled to acquit her.

    Qadri had also called for the overthrow of the Pakistan government over the controversy.

    The protests ended only after the government agreed to a Supreme Court review of Bibi's acquittal.

    Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan went on the national television to say that the Supreme Court's decision will be final and upheld.

    The chances of the apex court's acquittal being overturned are slim, according to Bibi's lawyer, who fled Pakistan following the verdict.

    Blasphemy is a massively inflammatory issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations of insulting Islam and Prophet Mohammed can lead to lynchings and murders.

    The allegations have led to at least 74 killings in Pakistan since 1990, according to an Al Jazeera tally.

    Meanwhile, hard line groups continue to hold sporadic, albeit peaceful, rallies across the country and calling for Bibi's execution.

    The TLP has also vowed to return to the streets if Bibi leaves the country.

    The Pakistani government has repeatedly stated that Bibi is being held in a secure location in Pakistan after being released from a prison in central Multan earlier this month.

    The exact whereabouts of the 54-year-old woman are unknown. Her family has requested asylum, which has been offered by several countries including Canada, Spain and France.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies