Violent protests again gripped Pakistan as more than 8,000 Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) activists began a procession to Islamabad from Lahore on Friday, October 22, to stage a sit-in for the release of their party chief Saad Hussain Rizvi and the ouster of the French ambassador from Pakistan.
As police forces intervened, fatal clashes erupted which continued and increased the death toll to 10 on Saturday. Among those killed are three policemen and seven TLP workers.
“A total of seven TLP activists have been killed by the direct firing of police and over 700 suffered injuries in Lahore so far,” news agency PTI quoted Ibn-i-Ismail, a TLP official as saying.
The condition of many injured workers was critical, he added.
The Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar confirmed that three officers had been killed in the overnight clashes in Lahore. “The policemen were accorded the highest degree of martyrdom in the line of duty,” he said, and warned that the rule of law must be ensured “at all costs.”
Soon after the incident, the blame game started. Pakistan police spokesperson claimed that the TLP members hurled petrol bombs on officials compelling the latter to take action to prevent them from damaging public property. “The angry mob also used sticks and pelted stones,” he said. Another spokesperson told the Reuters news agency that officials had resorted to firing teargas at the protesters after they attacked a police checkpoint.
Meanwhile, the members of the banned radical Islamist party Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) alleged that police instigated the violence by targeting its workers while they were trying to leave Lahore for Islamabad. A spokesperson, in a statement, alleged that TLP workers had experienced the “worst shelling in history”. He added that hundreds of party workers had been injured and several killed.
Videos of the violence emerge on social media
Many videos of the incident that have emerged on social media show heavy shelling and the use of tear gas during the violent protest. Hundreds of TLP members raised slogans against the authorities while demanding the immediate release of their 23-year-old leader Saad Hussain Rizvi and the expulsion of the French Ambassador.
Warning: This video contains scenes that may be disturbing. Viewers discretion is advised.
These clashes are, however not new. In fact, it had begun in November last year after Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) leader Saad Hussain Rizvi was apprehended by security personnel.
The background of dispute between TLP workers and Pakistan authorities
TLP is a banned radical Islamist group that was created in 2015 in order to block any modifications to the country’s current blasphemy law. A fundamentalist Islamic cleric named Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi founded the hardline party. His son Saad Hussain succeeded him as the Ameer of TLP after his death in November 2020.
According to sources, Saad Hussain was arrested as a result of the party’s ultimatum to the Imran Khan government to meet its four demands by April 20. The requests were first made in November of last year, following the execution of 46-year-old Samuel Paty in France by a young Jihadi terrorist and French President Emmanuel Macron’s subsequent denunciation of radical Islamists. TLP was also offended by the public display of cartoons of Prophet Muhammad in one French city.
On November 15, 2020, violence between TLP workers and police escalated to the point where the Pakistan government had to give in to their demands the next day. The Imran Khan government, through its Interior Ministry, issued a notification to release all TLP workers. On January 3 this year, the new successor of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan Saad Hussain Rizvi threatened to launch countrywide protests if its demand of expelling the French ambassador is not met by February 17.
“If you have forgotten the promise, see our history… You have got time until Feb 17 to expel the French ambassador,” he had earlier warned. On February 11, the Imran Khan government reached a new agreement with TLP and assured that their demands will be tabled before the Parliament on April 20. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan had told TLP that no other PM had raised the issue of blasphemy on international platforms more than him. However, in his signature U-turn, Imran Khan failed to implement the agreement ahead of the April 20 deadline.