Information minister Fawad Chaudhry on Saturday announced that Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi has been booked under sedition and terrorism charges at Lahore's Civil Lines police station.
The minister was briefing the media regarding last week's countrywide crackdown against TLP leaders and workers at a press conference in Islamabad.
Legal action has also been initiated against other top leaders of the religiopolitical party, Chaudhry announced. Pir Afzal Qadri has been booked under sedition and terrorism charges in Gujrat, Inayatul Haq Shah has been booked under sedition and anti-terrorism laws in Rawalpindi, and Hafiz Farooqul Hassan has been booked under similar charges as well.
Additionally, Chaudhry said all the suspects who were directly involved in the destruction of state property — which caused a loss of Rs50 million — and misbehaving with citizens during the TLP-led protests are being booked under terrorism charges at various police stations.
On November 23, 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).
Chaudhry revealed that a total of 2,899 people were taken into protective custody from across Punjab while 139 persons from Sindh and 126 from Islamabad were also taken into custody. If convicted by courts, the suspects could be sentenced to life in prison under sedition and terrorism charges, he said.
However, he added that a "large number of people" among the more than 3,000 taken into custody were not directly involved in the violence and therefore, they will be released after taking their assurances not to participate in such activities in the future.
The minister reiterated that the government would allow protests that protect the rights of people but that "the state will not remain silent on a protest that violates the rights of people and is beyond the ambit of the Constitution and law."
The TLP through its protests — starting with its 20-day sit-in at Faizabad interchange in November last year — caused harm to people's lives and properties despite government efforts to convince the party to protest peacefully, the minister said.
A joint operation was thus launched against the party in which all institutions and intelligence agencies participated, Chaudhry said. He thanked the opposition parties and the country's media "who went out of their way" to support the state during the crackdown.
Last week's crackdown against TLP had come ahead of Rizvi's call to party members to observe martyrs’ day on November 25. 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.
Rizvi and his fellow party leaders are accused of staging violent protests, passing incendiary remarks against the judiciary and the prime minister as well as provoking the military to stage a mutiny — all in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's acquittal of Aasia Bibi in a blasphemy case.
'No prohibition on movement of MNAs'
Answering a question regarding the arrest of MNAs Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir, the information minister said the two lawmakers belonging to the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) were stopped from flying to Dubai because a first information report (FIR) had been registered against them in Swabi.
"There is an FIR against the [two] MNAs in which they have not obtained bail," he said, adding that there is no prohibition on the two leaders' movement.
Chaudhry said the PTM leaders should obtain bail in the case against them in Swabi.
While talking to reporters at Bacha Khan International Airport on Friday, Dawar had said they were told that their names were on the Exit Control List because of a public meeting held in Swabi some time ago.
The MNA had claimed that they had already obtained bail in that case and challenged it in a court of law.
Correction: An earlier version of this report stated that the TLP workers and activists were booked under treason charges, not sedition charges. The error is regretted.