By ASHRAF JAVED and IFTIKHAR ALAM
Police yesterday thwarted pro-blasphemy laws rallies in Lahore, seizing no less than 200 demonstrators and shoving them into trucks yesterday.
Two major rallies were planned by different religious groups from Kalima Chowk to Liberty Market and from Data Darbar to Faisal Chowk on The Mall. The police fired tear-gas shells and used water cannons to disperse the protesters.
Religious leaders said more than 200 people, including senior clerics, were detained around the provincial capital, but police sources put the number at 166. Negotiations were taking place between police and protesters till yesterday night. The religious groups, in the evening, threatened with a province-wide protest movement if the police did not release their leaders and workers.
Police threw a massive security blanket in the city in an attempt to prevent the hardline Sunni Tehreek and its allied groups from participating in the “Save Islam” rallies. Several leading roads were blocked by placing heavy containers to foil the protest march.
Clashes erupted between anti-riot police and demonstrators as cops fired tear-gas shells to disperse the mob when they tried to march on The Mall. The protesters pelted stones at the police. Over a dozen people, including four policemen, were injured during the clash.
A senior police officer told The Nation that at least 166 people were arrested in police action. The officer, who preferred his name not to be mentioned, said the arrests were made when the religious groups tried to take out rallies without getting prior permission.
Yesterday’s protests did not coincide with the death anniversary of slain governor Salman Taseer who was gunned down by his bodyguard on January 4 five years ago for criticising the blasphemy laws, but it comes days after his son Shaan Taseer termed blasphemy laws “inhumane” in a video message posted on his Facebook page.
Clerics called for mass protests if police did not charge Shaan Taseer with blasphemy – a crime punishable by death. The governor had been gunned down by a policeman, Mumtaz Qadri, for championing the case of a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who was sentenced to death under the blasphemy laws. Shaan Taseer in the video message wished a happy holiday to Christians, in solidarity, and also asked for prayers for the woman and others victimised by what he called “inhumane” blasphemy laws.
Tens of thousands attended Qadri’s funeral last March after he was executed for killing the governor.
Last week, Lahore police filed a blasphemy case under Section 295-C (blasphemy against Islam). The case was registered on the complaint of a police officer and the FIR did not mention Shaan Taseer’s name.
The religious workers appeared in groups at different points throughout the day in their attempt to reach The Mall, outside the Punjab Assembly.
The police managed to make arrests at different places like Kalima Chowk, PGM Chowk, Lower Mall and Ferozpur Road.
The followers and workers of the religious parties belonging to Brelvi school of thought held protest demonstrations and took out rallies in different parts of the city. Idara Seerat-e-Mustaqeem, Sunni Tehreek Pakistan, Tehreek-e-Khatm-e-Nabuwwat and Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah organised the protests.
The purpose of the demonstrations on the death anniversary of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was to pay tribute to his killer Mumtaz Qadri and raise voice in favour of blasphemy laws. The banners and placards held by the protestors, however, did not read the pro-blasphemy law slogan as the law-enforcement agencies did not allow the organisers to do so.
The main rally was taken out by the religious parties from Data Darbar to Faisal Chowk at The Mall. Around 1,000 protestors took part in the rally and held a sit-in outside the Punjab Assembly where they were addressed by prominent religious clerics. The participants of the rallies also condemned the atrocities against Muslims in Barma, Held Kashmir, Palestine and Syria. The pictures of Mumtaz Qadri had also been placed on the banners and placards.
Addressing the protesters, Dr Ashraf Asif Jalali, Hafiz Khadim Hussain Rizvi and others announce to defend blasphemy laws in the country. They also paid tribute to Mumtaz Qadri.
The religious parties also tried to take out a rally from Kalima Chowk to Liberty Roundabout, but were barred from doing so as the police erected blockades at different sites leading to the venue. Main Gulberg and all arteries leading to it were blocked from Barkat Market to Main Market.
There were reports that such protests were planned in Rawalpindi, but were not allowed by the city administration. Though the media partially blacked out the protests, some TV channels showed protesters in different cities holding banners and chanting slogans in favour of Mumtaz Qadri and blasphemy laws.
Religious parties of Deobandi, Ahle Hadith and Shia schools of thought as well as Jamaat-e-Islami stayed away from protests. Courtesy The Nation