Government orders hours-long shutdown of social media and instant messaging platforms after days of violent protests.
Police in Pakistan said a right-wing group has taken six security personnel hostage at its headquarters in Lahore on Sunday after a week of violent clashes following the arrest of the group’s leader.
Pakistan’s government banned Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) Pakistan earlier this week after supporters took to the streets to protest against the arrest of their leader, Muslim scholar Saad Rizvi.
“Today in the early morning, miscreants attacked Nawankot Police Station where [paramilitary] Rangers and police officers were trapped inside the police station and [Deputy Superintendent] Nawankot [was] kidnapped,” read a statement from the provincial police in Punjab, of which Lahore is the capital.
The statement said the attackers were armed with petrol bombs and had stolen a tanker truck carrying 50,000 litres of petrol.
A senior police officer and two paramilitary staff were among the six being held by supporters of TLP, Lahore police spokesman Arif Rana told Reuters news agency.
Police said they have launched a security operation against the group in response to the attack.
Pakistani news channels have been barred from providing coverage of the group since it was banned, and on Sunday mobile and internet services were down in the area where clashes were taking place.
Addressing the media in the capital, Islamabad, Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed said the situation in Lahore was “tense”, with an operation centring on the Yateem Khana intersection, about a kilometre (0.6 miles) from a TLP regional headquarters building.
Supporters of the TLP have been sharing videos on social media of what they said were clashes on Sunday with police, and hashtags supporting the group were trending in Pakistan on Sunday.
The videos, which Reuters could not independently verify, showed thousands of protesters clashing with police in riot gear, as clouds of tear gas hung in the air and the crackle of gunfire could be heard.
TLP spokesman Shafiq Amini told Reuters four supporters had been killed on Sunday and several others were wounded in the violence.
At least four people have been killed, hundreds injured and thousands arrested in the days since Rizvi’s arrest.
The TLP leader had called on the government to honour what he said was a commitment it made in February to his party to expel the French envoy over the publication in France of depictions of Islam’s prophet.
The government said that it only committed to discussing the matter in Parliament.
Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday said the group had been banned because it “challenged the writ of the state”.
“Our government only took action action against TLP under our anti-terrorist law when they challenged the writ of the state and used street violence and attacking the public and law enforcers,” he posted on Twitter.
Let me make clear to people here & abroad: Our govt only took action against TLP under our anti-terrorist law when they challenged the writ of the state and used street violence & attacking the public & law enforcers. No one can be above the law and the Constitution.
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) April 17, 2021
Last week France advised its citizens to temporarily leave Pakistan.
Formed in 2017 by firebrand Muslim leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the TLP advocates for all those deemed to have committed blasphemy against Islam to be killed.
Since 1990, at least 78 people have been killed in mob violence and targeted attacks related to blasphemy accusations in Pakistan, according to an Al Jazeera tally.
The TLP has been banned under anti-terrorism legislation, with the government also initiating a process that would see it delisted as a political party by the country’s Election Commission.
Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent Asad Hashim in Pakistan contributed to this report. He tweets @AsadHashim.