In early 2007, four illegally constructed mosques in the federal capital were demolished. In retaliation, the Lal Masjid brigade came together. Their acts of defiance against the state, including kidnapping of policemen, led to an operation against them. The events of 2007 made the capital police wary of taking direct action against religious groups.

Last year, however, the capital police on the directives of the government decided to take action against those involved in preaching religious and sectarian hatred and violence in the capital.

Also read: Prayer leader’s ‘arrest’ sparks public outrage

Police officers close to the move, on the condition of anonymity, told Dawn that out of fear of retaliation by extremists, it was decided that a generalised action would be taken rather than focusing on a specific individuals or groups. “With the help of the amplifier act and the ban on the use of loudspeakers, cases can be registered against those who are involved in preaching hate or inciting violence,” a police official said.

Loudspeakers are generally used in places of worship to deliver sermons and give azan. However, through these laws, prayer leaders were told that except when delivering the azan their voices should not be heard outside the mosque.

Following the decision, in October 2014, police officials met the organisers and prayer leaders at all the mosques and imambargahs in the city and requested them to not violate the ban by using amplifiers and loudspeakers when delivering sermons. “The police also warned them that legal action would be taken against the violators.”

The official said the police had identified some places where religious and sectarian hatred and violence were preached. “There are no more than four or five such places in the capital,” he said.

Other officials said the police were currently using the excuse that action was being taken against everyone using amplifiers and loudspeakers without discrimination. Otherwise supporters of those arrested could begin protesting all over the country.

According to the officials, a majority of prayer leaders are cooperating with the police and obeying the law. If they receive a warning from the police, they give assurance that they will obey the rules in the future.

However, the particular individuals who the police believe are preaching religious hatred and violence are also generally uncooperative. In some cases, when the police requested them to switch off their loudspeakers, they refused. “They even threatened the police and told the officials that they were welcome to register cases against them,” police officials told Dawn.

They officials said since October 2014, 223 cases had been registered with various police stations against the violation of amplifier act, the use of loudspeakers and delivering hate speech.

As many as 259 people were booked between October and January and over 100 of them, including seven booked under PPC 295, were arrested. The remaining obtained bails. The officials said only those involved in preaching hatred and inciting violence were arrested while the rest were given bail.

Those who are not in the police list for preaching hatred are usually given pre-arrest bail and the next hearing date is fixed for two or three months later. However, the police have requested magistrates and assistant commissioners to not grant bail to the ones who were known to have preached violence and religious hatred.

Such actions by the police are becoming effective tools to curb the preaching of religious hatred. Moreover, these laws also allow the police to visit places of worship and religious seminaries to keep an eye on their activities. Earlier, such visits and collection of information was near impossible for the police. “Now the administrators of mosques and seminaries cooperate with the police as they fear that cases would be registered against them,” a police official said.

There are over 900 places of worship in the city and cases have been registered against 239 prayer leaders. The officials said the naib khateeb of Lal Masjid was booked twice but so far he has not been arrested.

Published in Dawn January 26th , 2015

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