Supporters of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan throw stones at a police armored vehicle in the Barakahu neighborhood of Islamabad on April 13. (Photo: Aamir Qureshi/AFP)
Members of the extremist Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party are using social media to mobilize supporters during violent protests over their arrested leader.
Since April 12, TLP has choked the country with protests that erupted when police arrested Saad Rizvi after he demanded the expulsion of the French ambassador over a controversy started by the publication of blasphemous cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in France.
“In every sit-in and protest, especially form the first row of baton yielders to face the police. Gather stones behind them. Commence strong stoning and provide back-up support to baton yielders if police proceed,” states a WhatsApp message from TLP on April 13.
“You must keep at least 10 slingshots at every sit-in. Make them stand left and right away from the gathering. Position them on buildings if possible. Use wet handkerchiefs and salt to treat tear gas. Position the boys as informers on buildings, houses, bridges and other high places near the protests.
“Usually the police and rangers are 10 percent less than the participants of the sit-ins. They are scared. Police have never fought bravely anywhere. Don’t be afraid of shelling or their advancement. The dispersed participants can keep police busy in different places. Police have a limited time to decide. They can’t fight for long. Allah protect you.”
A Christian boy has accepted Islam. Now his name is Khadim Hussain
Activist Maqsud A. Roy congratulated members on the conversion of a Christian participant.
“Good news from Gujar Khan [a city near Islamabad] sit-in. A Christian boy has accepted Islam. Now his name is Khadim Hussain. Write Mashallah [God has willed]. Congratulations everyone. Share it,” he stated in a WhatsApp message.
Roy referred to firebrand cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, who founded TLP in 2015 as the custodian of blasphemy laws and led protests against the 2018 acquittal of Catholic woman Asia Bibi after she spent eight years on death row on a blasphemy charge. Rizvi was a member of the Barelvi sect followed by half of Pakistanis.
TLP leader Saad Rizvi is the son of Khadim Hussain Rizvi, who died suddenly last November.
In 2018 general elections, TLP polled 4.21 percent of votes countrywide and emerged the fifth-largest party, winning three seats in the Sindh Provincial Assembly.
Pakistan witnessed several anti-France protests last year after French President Emmanuel Macron defended cartoons published by satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Last month an unnamed suspect was taken into custody after he fired shots in a bid to pass through a security checkpoint near the French embassy in Islamabad.
Protests by TLP continued in pockets across the country on April 14, with Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed confirming that at least two policemen had been killed and more than 340 wounded by demonstrators in the previous 48 hours.
The funeral of the two police officers was held on April 13 in Lahore, where several banks remained closed. Fifty-seven patients died before reaching hospitals. Sixteen roads are still blocked in the capital of Punjab.
On April 14, the interior minister announced that TLP would be banned under the anti-terrorism law.
The government should take strict action against extremist religious groups
Dominican Father James Channan, regional coordinator of United Religions Initiative Pakistan (URI), supported the development.
“Two of our staff members, including the executive secretary, have not been able to reach the office since Monday. The government should take strict action against extremist religious groups. The whole country is blocked. People are suffering,” he told UCA News.
“These sit-ins are inhuman and merciless. Instead of busy roads, parks should be designated for protests. If the government bows to TLP now, it will pave the way for more extremist groups. URI is still open to TLP for dialogue.”
Bishop Iftikhar Indrias of the Apostles of Gospel Ministries International agreed. “We condemn this act of terror in Pakistan. They shouldn’t be allowed to attack the innocent people of France and Pakistan. We pray for peace and love in our country,” he said.
Samson Salamat, chairman of the interreligious Rawadari Tehreek (Movement for Tolerance) group, was more critical.
“Organizations similar to TLP were previously banned. But they continued protests and rallies as well as collecting donations. The government should do more than lip service. It pains me to see that both murderers and murdered are Muslims. Humanity is seen dying,” he said.
Pakistan was placed on the “gray list” in June 2018 by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force, an inter-governmental body that combats money laundering, funding of terrorism and threats to the international financial system.
The global watchdog wanted Islamabad to take action against home-grown militant Islamist groups and cut off their funding.
The UK government this week added Pakistan to a list of 21 high-risk countries with unsatisfactory controls on money laundering and terrorist financing.