A Pakistani policeman fires tear gas at protesters in Karachi on Nov. 24 during clashes after the arrest of cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the leader of Islamist group Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan. (Photo by Asif Hassan/AFP)
Pakistan has launched a crackdown on a religious group who paralyzed the country for three days after the acquittal of Catholic death row inmate Asia Bibi.
Bibi, a mother of five who had been held in solitary confinement on death row since 2010, had her blasphemy conviction overturned by the Supreme Court on Oct. 30.
The court's ruling sparked three days of violent protests led by Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the firebrand cleric and chief of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a politico-religious group known for its staunch support of draconian blasphemy laws.
The protests prompted the government to sign a controversial deal that drew condemnation from minority and human rights groups.
The Christian woman was eventually released on Nov. 8 in Multan and flown to Islamabad. Her whereabouts have been kept secret due to threats to her life and her family.
On Nov. 23, police, rangers and other law enforcement agencies detained Rizvi and hundreds of his followers in an undeclared crackdown against the group. The move sparked clashes between Rizvi's supporters and police in Lahore in which at least five people were injured.
Government spokesman Fawad Chaudhry said Rizvi was taken into protective custody after he announced plans to hold a rally in Rawalpindi.
"Khadim Hussain Rizvi has been taken into protective custody by police and shifted to a guesthouse. They insisted on coming to Rawalpindi and refused the government's proposal for alternative arrangements," Chaudhry said shortly after the arrests.
"The government did its best to convince them but they refused every offer and started to provoke violence. The public are requested to stay peaceful and calm. The law shall take its course and it cannot be left to individuals."
In a press statement on Nov. 25, TLP Karachi head Allama Razi Hussaini said the group was being punished for staging protests against Bibi's acquittal.
"Our more than 500 leaders and workers have been missing ever since the crackdown was launched by the police," Hussaini said.
He also condemned the house arrest of Islamic scholar Mufti Muneeb ur Rehman for his support of the TLP.
Bibi was sentenced to death in 2010 on charges of making derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad during an argument with a Muslim farm worker.
Her lawyer Saiful Malook has fled Pakistan after threats to his life.
The raw video below shows TLP supporters clashing with police at Numaish Chowrangi in Karachi on Nov. 24. (Video courtesy of TLP media)