Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi was taken into "protective custody" by police from Lahore as law enforcement agencies launched a massive crackdown against workers of TLP and Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA) on Friday night.
"Khadim Hussain Rizvi has been taken into protective custody by police and shifted to a guest house," said Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry late Friday night, confirming reports of the incendiary leader's arrest via Twitter. High/red alert had been generated to heighten the security in the provincial capital.
The crackdown came ahead of Rizvi's call to party members to observe martyrs’ day on November 25 (Sunday). He had asked workers and supporters to gather at Faizabad in the federal capital — the same venue where the party had staged a weeks-long sit-in last year that had virtually paralysed the federal capital and led to several people losing their lives.
Law enforcement personnel on Friday night also took in custody TLYRA head Dr Asif Ashraf Jalali.
Furthermore, according to security sources, TLP patron Pir Afzal Qadri was also arrested the same night from Gujrat.
Soon after the news of the arrest of the clerics spread, hundreds of activists of the two parties took to the streets and blocked many roads for traffic.
A constable was seriously injured at Multan Road where the violent activists clashed with police.
Following the unrest and severe clashes, Rangers reached Lahore, taking control of city’s major roads. Prior to the agitation, a police officer said, hundreds of trained police commandos and personnel of the anti-riot force were dispatched to the Multan Road after the information that violent activists of the TLP had held a senior police officer — Iqbal Town SP Syed Ali — hostage along with his guards.
The district authorities in Rawalpindi issued detainment orders for TLP divisional leader Inayatul Haq. According to the notification, Haq will be detained in a jail for 15 days.
According to a correspondent in Sialkot, police arrested Sufi Mohammad Rafiq, district emir of the TLP, and four main activists of the party, identified as Saleem Shahid, Mehbub Hassan, Nasir Dogar and Syed Kaleemul Hassan Shah.
On Saturday, security officials said that since last night, at least 30 of the party's workers have been arrested from various parts of the capital.
Around 100 police personnel have been deployed at Faizabad interchange.
According to police sources, 143 TLP workers have so far been arrested from Rawalpindi, 18 from Attock, 55 from Jhelum and five from Chakwal, taking the total arrests from the four cities to 221.
More than a hundred arrests were also made in Karachi, according to Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) East Azfar Mahesar, who visited Numaish Chowrangi to brief police officials.
According to a senior police official, “a total of 154 TLP workers were apprehended from different areas of the city”.
Among them, 53 were arrested from district East, 34 from Korangi, 31 from Malir, 17 from Central and 19 from district West. At least 27 other workers were detained by Pakistan Rangers Sindh who were later on handed over to the police for further legal action.
'Nothing to do with Aasia Bibi protest'
"The action was prompted by TLP's refusal to withdraw its call for protest on November 25. It’s to safeguard public life, property and order," Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry shared on Twitter on Friday night.
The arrest "has to do nothing with Asia Bibi case", Chaudhry said, adding the TLP had insisted on coming to Rawalpindi "refusing [the government's] proposal for alternative arrangements".
"The TLP has become a continuous threat to the life and properties of the citizens and is doing politics under the guise of religion ... the situation is fully under control, people should remain peaceful and fully cooperate with authorities," he said in a tweet in Urdu.
The minister said the government "did it[s] best" to convince the party against convening for the protest, "but they refused every offer and started to provoke violence".
"State is responsible to defend finality and respect of Holy Prophet PBUH. Law shall take its course and it cannot be left to individuals," Chaudhry concluded.
Reports of arrest
Prior to Chaudhry's tweets, a family member of Rizvi had confirmed to DawnNewsTV that the TLP chief had been taken into custody. “He was arrested from his hujra in Lahore,” a family member of Rizvi told Samaa TV.
Rizvi's son, Saad, while talking to 7 News said along with his father, all district leaders of TLP had been arrested.
The Punjab information and law ministers, however, had said they did not know about any such action being taken against Rizvi.
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TLP leader Pir Afzal Qadri in a video message had corroborated that police "was raiding [their] mosques in order to arrest leaders".
Aasia Bibi protests
The reports of the arrests come weeks after the TLP led three-day protests across the country against the acquittal of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman whose blasphemy conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court at the end of last month.
The demonstrators during the protests had termed the chief justice “liable to be killed” and had called for a rebellion against the army chief “because he is a non-Muslim”.
This had led to Prime Minister Imran Khan issuing a stern warning to the agitators and telling them: "Do not clash with the state".
“Do not take us [to a situation] where we are compelled to take [strict] action,” the prime minister had said in a televised speech.
Two days later, however, the TLP had agreed to end the nationwide protest sit-ins after reaching an agreement with the federal and Punjab governments under which the latter agreed to initiate the legal process to put Aasia Bibi's name on the Exit Control List (ECL) and refrain from objecting to review of the court judgement.
The TLP, in turn, had only offered an apology "if it hurt the sentiments of or inconvenienced anyone without reason".
One year to Faizabad
In November 2017, TLP workers demanding the resignation of then law minister Zahid Hamid had staged a weeks-long sit-in at the Faizabad interchange that had virtually paralysed the federal capital and led to several people losing their lives.
On November 21 of the same month, the apex court had taken notice of the sit-in and directed the defence and interior secretaries to submit a detailed report on the matter.
Days later, the then PML-N government had launched against the protesters an operation which, when failed, had forced the authorities to cave and Hamid to resign.
The Supreme Court on Thursday had reserved its verdict on the suo motu case over the Faizabad sit-in. The reserved verdict pertains to a variety of issues stemming from TLP's infamous sit-in, including its party registration as well as its violent protest.