Clashes as protesters demand missing activists face blasphemy charge

Updated January 19, 2017

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A policeman intervenes as supporters of Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah group chant slogans during a protest. -Reuters
A policeman intervenes as supporters of Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah group chant slogans during a protest. -Reuters

Protesters threw stones at supporters of five missing Pakistani activists on Thursday and demanded that police charge the missing men under a blasphemy law that carries a mandatory death sentence.

The activists, who have posted blogs criticising the political influence of the military and speaking up for the rights of religious minorities, have all gone missing separately since January 4, and it is unclear what happened to them.

Shortly after their disappearances, blasphemy allegations against them appeared on social media and in a complaint to police.

About 100 members of Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah arrived at Karachi Press Club and started hurling stones at people gathered there to support the missing activists.

They chanted slogans asking police to file blasphemy cases against the missing activists and carried banners that read: “Beheading is the punishment of blasphemers.”

The activists' supporters were forced to withdraw into a nearby building.

Civil society activists said that instead of giving satisfactory answers over the recovery of the missing activists, the government and its institutions are trying to "veil their incompetence and wrongdoings by running a malicious campaign against the abductees".

The activists present at the demonstrations also expressed concern over forced disappearance of people and said it is making the society more intolerant.

“We persuaded the religious activists to withdraw,” police officer Aurengzeb Khan said. “Their leader then held prayers for the prosperity of Islam and called on the members to leave.”

Friends, family and supporters of all five men deny they have blasphemed, and have denounced the campaign to press that charge, which could endanger their lives were they to reappear.

The interior ministry said on Thursday that police had not registered a blasphemy case, although police in Islamabad confirmed on Wednesday that a formal complaint had been made by a lawyer.

“There is absolutely no truth to reports that cases have been filed against the bloggers,” the ministry said.

Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was quoted last week as saying the government was not responsible for the disappearances.