Members of a radical Islamic advocacy group in Pakistan attacked a peaceful rally calling for police to solve the disappearance of a number of secular activists, who disappeared recently and were later accused of “blasphemy.”
A group of clerics, identified as members of the Muslim group Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah, threw stones and “hurled bricks” at individuals gathered for the rally while calling for those who disappeared to be beheaded. The Associated Press quotes Pakistani police official Niaz Kundi as confirming the brick- and rock-throwing, noting that those who violated laws will face justice.
The disappeared include anti-Taliban professor Salman Haider and Samar Abbas, whom the AP identifies as a “Shiite activist.”
The Pakistani newspaper Dawn added that the Islamic clerics and their supporters, numbering over one hundred people, chanted “beheading is the punishment of blasphemers” while attacking the secularist supporters of those who disappeared. The clerics had apparently used social media to publicize the rally for the critical writers, calling for Muslims to outnumber the attendees of the rally and call instead for punishing the disappeared.
The men were demanding that police levy charges against the disappeared for violating Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which carries a death sentence for those who criticize Muhammad and a life sentence for desecrating a copy of the Quran. It also carries numerous extensive prison sentences for other public criticism of Islam.
Police eventually corralled the ralliers into a nearby building while they convinced the Muslim rioters to disperse. Attendees complained that police appeared to yield the street to the disruptors: “while we are being encircled and backed into a corner, religious groups are allowed to openly protest.”
There is no evidence, Dawn notes, that those who disappeared violated the nation’s blasphemy laws, though many had “posted blogs criticising the political influence of the military and speaking up for the rights of religious minorities.” Authorities have actively dispelled rumors that the individuals involved are being investigated for such crimes. “There is absolutely no truth to reports that cases have been filed against the bloggers,” Pakistan’s interior ministry said in a statement.
Mobs of Muslim extremists have become a growing threat in Pakistan, an Islamic state that, as mentioned previously, severely punishes “blasphemy” against the religion. The group Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah, in particular, had triggered police action earlier this month with a public celebration of the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, a governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province who was killed after objecting publicly to the nation’s blasphemy laws. The group, along with several other extremist Sunni groups, staged a rally to celebrate his death on January 4. Police arrested over 100 Muslim clerics after the revelers began to block major streets in Gulberg, Punjab.