ISLAMABAD: The leaders of the religious parties staging a sit-in outside the capital on Friday threatened to attack the families of federal ministers if their demands were not met.
Religious groups – led by the Tehreek-e-Labaik Yah Rasool Allah Pakistan and Sunni Tehreek Pakistan – have been at the Faizabad Interchange for three straight days now, bringing the cities to a standstill.
The threats were made in the Friday sermon, delivered by Almi Tanzeem Ahle Sunnat leader Pir Afzal Qadri.
The sit-in leaders had already announced plans to hold Friday prayers at Faizabad and a sizeable number had gathered there for the congregation.
Police officials told Dawn that according to their information, the cleric threatened ministers’ families, saying: “[they] should be very careful because our supporters can harm their children.”
Two FIRs lodged against protesters; police say sit-in participants have begun to harass locals and commuters
In the sermon he threatened the occupation of all railway stations and airports in the country, saying that all major roads would be blocked by their supporters.
The cleric called on Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal to negotiate with them, but only after removing Law Minister Zahid Hamid from his position. “We will not back down from our demands and we are willing to die for the cause of Khatam-i-Nabuwat,” Qadri said.
“An inquiry should be initiated against him and if the law minister is found guilty, he should be removed permanently,” the protest leaders said in their message to the minister.
Police sources said that the government of Punjab had begun to mediate between the leaders of religious groups and the federal government through a provincial minister, but over the past five days, only one meeting was held.
The Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) administration also made attempts to negotiate with the protesters, but it could not get through to their high-command.
“We only have access to a committee made by the groups. We called them a few times, but the committee members refused to talk to us, saying that their leaders had disallowed them from doing so,” police sources said.
Officials told Dawn that a few leaders and activists of the religious groups had been arrested from different parts of the Punjab, including Faisalabad.
However, no action has been taken against them in the capital so far, save for the few new cases registered against them.
The two FIRs, lodged at the Industrial Area police station, contain charges for rioting, unlawful assembly, and assaulting an official.
According to the FIR, the protesters continued to block the main arteries of the twin cities at Faizabad and had not dispersed despite being warned to vacate the area under the terms of section 144.
The report alleged that protesters armed with batons had manhandled police officials deployed there, and had assaulted them. The FIR claimed that demonstrators had even begun to harass residents of the area.
The second FIR was registered over the attack on the team of a private TV channel that was deputed there for coverage.
Meanwhile, officials monitoring the sit-in said the protesters were becoming more and more aggressive and trying to expand their territory, adding that the vehicles they had rented to get to Islamabad had been sent back.
According to police, protesters were now accosting commuters and stopping vehicles, including public transport, and even searching ordinary citizens.
Published in Dawn, November 11th, 2017