LAHORE: Thousands of people gathered in Lahore for a religious procession on Tuesday amid fears of spread of the coronavirus.
The government had issued a notice banning mass gatherings commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Ali (AS), but local negotiations with religious leaders failed.
“I have attended this procession every year for as long as I can remember,” said Ali Kazmi, 28, who took part in Lahore, where officials estimated between eight and ten thousand worshippers participated.
“They try to stop Shia mourning ceremonies and processions using different excuses. It is [coronavirus] today, before that it was the issue of security. It’s all excuses.”
Members of the Shia sect make up around 20 per cent of the country’s 220 million population. Smaller processions were also held in major cities across the country, including Karachi.
Dressed in black, devotees chanted slogans and slapped their chests in unison while others whipped themselves with blades.
“We reject any restriction imposed on mourning ceremonies. Your local elections can take place, your markets are open, your government meetings are happening,” said Shia Ulema Council in a statement ahead of the procession.
An official from the police department said that they attempted to negotiate with clerics and religious leaders over the procession, who refused to back down. Security however was still provided.
The government is struggling to contain a third wave of infections, with more than 800,000 cases and 18,000 deaths declared.
The authorities have largely avoided clamping down on religious activities in recent months. Mosques have remained open throughout the holy month of Ramadan.
However, private gatherings, shops, and restaurants have faced tight restrictions, with the army mobilised to help enforce rules.