SAWT BEIRUT INTERNATIONAL

| 3 December 2021, Friday |

Pakistan frees leader of radical party behind massive anti-France protests

Pakistan freed on Thursday the leader of a radical religious party that staged massive anti-France protests, after lifting a ban on the group earlier this month to end the latest round of deadly unrest.

Hundreds of supporters cheered and threw flower petals as Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) leader Saad Rizvi was led to the party’s headquarters in Lahore.

His release was confirmed to AFP by the spokesman for his party and the Lahore police. The TLP broadcast the celebrations outside its headquarters live on YouTube.

The TLP has staged a series of disruptive protests in recent years, primarily in response to the flashpoint issue of blasphemy in Muslim-majority Pakistan.

Rizvi was arrested in April, when authorities declared the group illegal.

However, on November 7, the government lifted the ban after striking a deal with the party that it claimed was in the “national interest,” following the deaths of seven police officers during a rally that began last month.

It stated that the decision was made following assurances from the group, which has three members in parliament, that it would follow the law.

As part of the agreement, hundreds of detained TLP supporters were released earlier this month, and Rizvi – son of party founder Khadim Hussain Rizvi – was expected to be released this week.

On Friday, the one-year anniversary of Khadim Hussain Rizvi’s death will be observed.

The party launched its anti-France campaign after the Paris-based satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo republished cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed last year, which many Muslims considered blasphemous.

Protests in April prompted the French embassy to advise all of its citizens to leave the country.

The most recent round of protests, which drew thousands to a march that began in Lahore, resulted in gridlock in several Pakistani cities and the suspension of some train services.