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Pakistan accused of appeasing Islamists over French ambassador

Parliament to decide envoy's fate after Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan leader is released

Kamran Chaudhry, Lahore

Kamran Chaudhry, Lahore

Published: April 21, 2021 05:14 AM GMT

Updated: April 21, 2021 07:57 AM GMT

Pakistan accused of appeasing Islamists over French ambassador

Saad Hussain Rizvi, chief of banned Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan, in Lahore after his release from Kot Lakhpat jail on April 20. (Photo supplied)

Pakistani priests and human rights activists have criticized a resolution that parliament will decide whether to expel the French ambassador over a blasphemy row.

Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said on April 20 that the resolution would be presented to the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, on April 22 and that Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) had agreed to call off its protest sit-ins.

TLP has conducted an anti-France campaign for months since President Emmanuel Macron defended the right of a satirical magazine to republish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

That campaign erupted into bloody violence last week following the arrest of TLP leader Saad Hussain Rizvi after he called for a march on the capital to demand the French envoy's expulsion.

The resolution was tabled on April 20 following the release of Rizvi. Internet services were suspended for five days across Lahore, where five policemen were killed and 11 were kidnapped. More than 500 policemen were injured and 40 vehicles were burned during clashes with TLP members.

“What a move! The chances of Pakistan exiting the Financial Action Task Force’s grey list have further lessened. This is democracy versus a mob,” stated Samson Salamat, chairman of the interreligious Rawadari Tehreek (Movement for Tolerance), in a Facebook post.

The helpless religious minorities should continue their struggle for peace

Rizvi was taken into custody after he insisted on leading his supporters to Islamabad for another round of sit-ins to protest against the government’s failure to honor last year’s agreement which had called for the expulsion of the French ambassador over the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

Last week the government banned the hardline Sunni politico-religious group known for its violent support of Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws.

Father Abid Habib, former president of the Major Superiors Leadership Conference of Pakistan, described TLP as "illiterate ignorants."

“They are pulling the whole country in ignorance. These people shouldn’t have been allowed in the parliament. Sadly, our country is in a vicious circle. The helpless religious minorities should continue their struggle for peace,” he told UCA News.

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“Our rulers shouldn’t give in to their demands. Most of the European Pakistanis live in France. Any diplomatic blunder would jeopardize their status as well. The issue can be resolved with negotiations and talks.”

Father Mario Rodrigues, former rector of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Karachi, called for the writ of the state. 

“We thought the government would be strong about its stance on extremism. Expelling the French ambassador will hurt our image internationally,” he said.

TLP rose to prominence over its opposition to the acquittal of Catholic woman Asia Bibi and the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, a government bodyguard who assassinated liberal governor Salman Taseer. TLP contested the 2018 general elections and went on to win seats in three provincial assemblies.

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