The Pakistani capital of Islamabad has been “under siege” by hundreds of Muslim extremists demanding strict adherence to the country’s anti-blasphemy laws and the resignation of the federal law minister accused of breaking them.
Deutsche Welle (DW) reports that dozens of protesters have been heard chanting, ”There is only one punishment for those dishonoring the Prophet: to remove their heads from their bodies!”
They have also called for the public hanging of alleged blasphemers, namely members of the Ahmadi Muslim community, which many Islamic radicals consider to be non-Muslim.
Azhar Rizvi, a 22-year-old protester, declared, “Every [Ahmadi] should be publicly hanged so that it is in front of everyone!”
Led by Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the chief of the hard-line Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) political party, the number of protesters reportedly reached up to 2,000.
As of Monday, when the demonstration entered its sixth day, the Rizvi supporters were still blocking the main entrance to the capital city.
Al Jazeera reports:
Islamabad has been under virtual lockdown since the protesters entered the city, camping out at an intersection on a major highway leading into the city. The government has deployed as many as 1,800 police personnel to secure the entry and exit points near the protest, as well as blocking off access to the city’s government quarter using cargo containers.
“There have been reports of clashes between police and the protesters, with government officials claiming some hardliners even carry weapons,” adds DW.
The TLP party is best known for its unrelenting support for the Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws, which mandate life imprisonment or the death sentence for those who are found guilty of insulting God, Islam, or religious leaders.
Galvanized by a Muslim radical executed by Pakistani authorities for killing a governor for urging the country to reform its controversial blasphemy laws in support of a Christian woman, the TLP leader adopted the rallying cry of “death to blasphemers” as one of its top campaign slogans.
The TLP supporters in Islamabad are mainly protesting a change in Pakistan’s electoral law.
Deutsche Welle (DW) explains, “The controversy erupted in October, when the government amended electoral laws, including the wording of an oath for lawmakers that dealt with a declaration of Prophet Muhammad as god’s final prophet. After protests from religious groups, the government restored the oath in its original form.”
Although the Pakistani government has repeatedly claimed the change in wording was the result of a “clerical error,” the TLP supporters hold federal Law Minister Zahid Hamid responsible for the change and have ordered Islamabad to fire him and charge him with committing blasphemy.
“Our sole demand is the authorities act against those members of parliament who amended the constitutional clause related to the ‘finality’ of Prophet Muhammad,” TLP member Hafiz Ullah Alvi told DW.
“Many Islamic groups in Pakistan are against parliamentary democracy and want it replaced by the Islamic Shariah model,” notes DW.
Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy statutes are primarily used to target religious minority groups in the predominantly Muslim country, particularly Christians.
While Pakistan has yet to carry out a blasphemy-linked death sentence, the laws have long fueled vigilante justice that has led to the killing of people accused of committing blasphemy.
According to an Al Jazeera tally, Islamists have killed at least 73 people over alleged blasphemy since 1990.
Muslim radicals often rally in the streets in support of the controversial law.
Pakistani authorities reportedly detain an estimated 100 people every year for allegedly committing blasphemy.