–Top TLP leadership, including Khadim Hussain Rizvi and Pir Afzal Qadri, charged with sedition and terrorism for challenging govt’s writ
–Info minister says over 3,000 TLP activists to be charged with terrorism, those not directly involved in violence to be released
–Fawad thanks Opp parties and media for ‘going out of their way’ to support govt during crackdown on TLP
ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry on Saturday announced that the government has decided to take action against the hard-line Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and has booked its top leadership under sedition and terrorism charges for inciting violence, arson and damage to public and private property during their protest in the first week of November.
“The government has decided to take legal action against the TLP leadership. TLP chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi has been charged under terrorism and sedition laws at the Civil Lines Police Station in Lahore,” Chaudhry told a press conference in the federal capital.
“Pir Afzal Hussain Qadri, who is the second most important leader of the TLP, has been charged with sedition and terrorism in Gujrat,” he said, adding that TLP Rawalpindi district president Inayatul Haq Shah and another top leader Hafiz Farooqul Hassan have also been booked under similar charges by the Rawat police.
Additionally, the minister said that all the suspects who were directly involved in the destruction of state property — which caused a loss of Rs50 million — and misbehaving with citizens during the TLP-led protests are being booked under terrorism charges at various police stations.
Fawad said that a total of 2,899 people were taken into protective custody from across Punjab while 139 persons from Sindh and 126 from Islamabad were also taken into custody. If convicted by courts, the suspects could be sentenced to life in prison under sedition and terrorism charges, he added.
However, the minister said that a “large number of people” taken into custody were not directly involved in violence and will be released after taking their assurances not to participate in such activities in the future.
The minister reiterated that the government would allow protests that protect the rights of people but that “the State will not remain silent on a protest that violates the rights of people and is beyond the ambit of the constitution and law”.
TLP through its protests — starting with its 20-day sit-in at Faizabad interchange in November 2017 — caused harm to people’s lives and properties despite government efforts to convince the party to protest peacefully, the minister said.
A joint operation was thus launched against the party in which all institutions and intelligence agencies participated, Fawad said, as he thanked the opposition parties and the country’s media “who went out of their way” to support the State during the crackdown.
Police had already taken Rizvi and other top TLP leaders into “protective custody” on Nov 23, when they refused to withdraw a call for yet another protest in Rawalpindi’s Liaquat Bagh on Nov 25.
The TLP’s firebrand leader was arrested in a joint operation by the Lahore Police, Elite Force and Dolphin Force at the Yateem Khana Rehmatallil Alameen Mosque after an approval by the federal cabinet. On Nov 29, the Lahore High Court (LHC) dismissed as withdrawn a petition challenging the arrest of Rizvi, his son Saad Rizvi and Afzal Qadri.
On October 31, TLP led widespread protests which erupted in the major cities after the Supreme Court (SC) acquitted Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman on death row since 2010 when she was convicted on blasphemy charges. The protests lasted for three days and paralysed routine life in several parts of the country.
Rizvi and his fellow party leaders also passed incendiary remarks against the superior judiciary and Prime Minister Imran Khan as well as provoking the military to stage a mutiny against the Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
Despite Prime Minister Imran’s stern warning to the TLP leaders against challenging the State’s writ, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government reached a five-point agreement with the protesters on Nov 3.
According to the five-point agreement, the government would not object to the review petition filed against Aasia’s acquittal by the top court and the legal process to place her name on the Exit Control List (ECL) would be initiated immediately. Also, the deaths (if any) which took place during the course of protests, would be investigated as per law and the government would release all TLP protesters arrested since Oct 30. Moreover, TLP also “apologised for the inconveniences caused because of the protests”.