Pak police clash with supporters of executed Islamist assassin Qadri
An estimated 25,000 supporters of Qadri gathered in Rawalpindi in the afternoon to offer prayers, before turning toward the heavily-barricaded capital which was patrolled by hundreds of police and paramilitary soldiers.world Updated: Mar 27, 2016 22:35 IST
Pakistani police fired tear gas on Sunday at thousands of stone-throwing supporters of an Islamist assassin, a month after he was hanged for killing a provincial governor for alleged blasphemy.
The execution of Mumtaz Qadri on February 29 was described by analysts as a “key moment” in Pakistan’s long battle against religious extremism, but it has also exposed deep religious divisions in the conservative Muslim country of 200 million.
An estimated 25,000 supporters of the former police bodyguard gathered in Islamabad’s twin city Rawalpindi in the afternoon to offer prayers, before turning toward the heavily-barricaded capital which was patrolled by hundreds of police and paramilitary soldiers.
Riot police carrying batons and shields fired tear gas to try to prevent them pushing closer to the city centre.
The protest has been almost entirely ignored by the Pakistani media, which has increasingly become subject to government-ordered news blackouts designed to prevent unrest from spiralling out of control.
Qadri was working as a bodyguard for Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer when he shot him 29 times in 2011 over the governor’s call to reform the blasphemy law, which critics say is frequently misused to oppress religious minorities.
A police officer, Muhammad Nasim, said that the march was peaceful initially, but as the crowds reached an avenue leading to parliament the protesters turned violent, smashing windows and damaging bus stations.
Malik Ahsan, a doctor at Islamabad’s main hospital, said that 13 people were wounded in the demonstration. Most of them were police officers admitted to hospital after having been hit with stones.
Police used tear gas in an abortive attempt to stop the unruly crowd as they approached parliament. People in offices close to the parliament building said they were affected by the gas. Witnesses said that protesters torched police barricades and lit fire to bushes.
The protest leaders, speaking from a truck close to parliament, called on demonstrators not to be scared and to advance on the government building, but the crowd thinned. The leaders said they would hold a sit-in until their demands are met, but did not specify what their demands are.
The army was called in to control the situation and stationed troops outside parliament, army spokesman Maj.Gen Asim Salim Bajwa said.
On Saturday a group of angry men at a Pakistani airport assaulted a former pop star accused of insulting the Prophet Mohammed’s youngest wife, in the latest case of vigilante violence linked to blasphemy.
Ex-singer Junaid Jamshed, who is now a prominent Sunni evangelist, was leaving Islamabad airport on Saturday night when he was set upon by a group of around six men who were waiting to attack him at the exit.
The incident was captured on mobile phone video and has ben widely viewed.
The men, some wearing Western clothes and others in traditional shalwar kameez, were seen throwing punches at the 51-year-old, who in addition to his preaching work runs a chain of high-end clothing boutiques.
“You have committed blasphemy, hit him, hit him!” shouted one of the men.
“We were looking for you,” said another. “He has disrespected the companions of Prophet Mohammed. He has blasphemed against the Prophet.”
Jamshed was forced to flee back into the airport. In a later Facebook posting, he said it was time for the nation to decide it “will not let these religious fanatics prevail amongst us”.
A local police official confirmed the incident and said the ex-singer had filed a complaint.
Most Internet users condemned the violence on social media.
“Get hold of the culprits and make an example of them. Enough of this madness in the name of love,” wrote Facebook user Karami Elahi.
Many pointed to the fact that police and security seemingly failed to intervene, despite the outbreak of violence at one of the country’s busiest airports.
A spokesman for the Airport Security Force was not available for comment despite repeated attempts.
A blasphemy case was brought against Jamshed by the Sunni Tehreek religious organisation in December 2014, after a video of him appearing to make negative remarks about the Prophet Mohammed’s youngest wife to make a broader point about women’s inherent flaws was widely shared.
He publicly apologised and sought forgiveness and the case did not proceed further.
First Published: Mar 27, 2016 22:35 IST