Pakistani authorities have issued an ultimatum to an anti-blasphemy Islamist political party, urging them to stop obstructing the main entrance to Islamabad or face repercussions, a move that potentially spark clashes between the two sides.
Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the leader of Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), and up to 2,000 (at its peak) supporters on his side organized the sit-in protest to block the main entrance to Islamabad—disrupting life in the capital, shutting down schools, and preventing workers from reaching work, among other issues.
“The police have beaten up our peaceful protesters,” a pro-blasphemy law protester, identified only as Faisal, told the Guardian. “We are ready to get our heads cut off for this cause. We are protecting the prophet, because if we won’t, who will?”
“We want to end this protest in a way where the least number of people are harmed. We don’t want this to end violently,” explained Naeem Iqbal, a spokesman for the local police, while also speaking to the Guardian.
Despite the intentions to resolve the situation peacefully, the Pakistani government has stressed that it wants to bring a resolution to the conflict expeditiously.
“You all are being given a last warning,” proclaimed an unnamed Islamabad deputy commissioner, echoing a decision from the court that ordered the end the protest.
“After this final announcement, you all are being warned to end the illegal sit-in [blocking entry to Islamabad] immediately,” declared the court order.
Pakistan’s Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal acknowledged that the sit-in event must be put to rest to avoid interrupting and possibly preventing the upcoming visit to Islamabad by representatives of Pakistan’s ally China, which provides a significant amount of military and economic aid.
“If some group tries to hold the state hostage, that behavior will not be tolerated,” warned the minister, reports Reuters.
Nevertheless, TLP supporters have remained defiant in the face of orders to stop its protests by various components of the Pakistani government. The political party is not willing to comply with Pakistan’s ultimatum.
“We’re not moving,” Ejaz Ashrafi, a spokesman for TLP told Reuters, which pointed out that a confrontation between government authorities and radical Imams resulted in more than 100 fatalities in 2007.
TLP’s has adopted the “death to blasphemers” rallying cry—a testament to its unflinching support for castigating anyone who insults Islam and anything associated.
The top concern protesters expressed during the rally was that Islamabad is not taking Pakistan’s blasphemy violations seriously.
However, authorities detain an estimated 100 people on blasphemy charges annually. Vigilantes kill many accused blasphemers before the law can process them.
Human rights groups, like Amnesty International, have condemned Muslim-majority Pakistan’s blasphemy statutes, which experts believe are used to target Christians, Ahmadi Muslims, Hindus, and other religious minorities.
“We have come from far and wide to protest these changes that have been made. They are changing the very definition of Muslim, and that is wrong,” Hassan Abdullah, 32, a businessman from Lahore told the Guardian, adding, Islamabad is ignoring the issue of blasphemy.
Since the TLP and its supporters flooded into Islamabad and blocked the main entrance with sit-ins nearly ten days ago, the party has actively been advocating for the blind adherence to Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws and the resignation of Pakistan’s Federal Law Minister Zahid Hamid accused of committing blasphemy.
Minister Hamid reportedly altered electoral laws, particularly the wording of the parliamentarians that deals with declaring Islam’s most revered leader Muhammad as God’s final prophet, prompting the TLC to designate him a blasphemer.
For over a week, the Razvi supporters have been protesting what they consider to be a softening and disregard of Muslim-majority Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws.
“There have been reports of clashes between police and the protesters, with government officials claiming some hardliners even carry weapons,” reported Deutsche Welle (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.