ISLAMABAD: The government has decided to try the detained leadership of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) in special anti-terrorism courts on charges of sedition and terrorism for delivering anti-state speeches and inciting violence during their three-day protests against Christian woman Aasia Bibi’s acquittal in a blasphemy case.
Speaking at a news conference on Saturday, Federal Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry said cases had already been registered in various police stations of Punjab against four TLP leaders, including its chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi, and they would soon be produced in court after their formal arrests. He said the government had also decided that the TLP activists, who had damaged public and private properties on motorways, highways and in different parts of the country, would be tried on terrorism charges.
At present 2,899 TLP men were under protective custody in Punjab, 139 in Sindh and 126 in Rawalpindi and Islamabad, the minister said. According to him, TLP office-bearers Khadim Rizvi and Pir Afzal Qadri have been booked under treason and terror charges at police stations in Lahore and Gujrat, respectively, while Inayatul Haq Shah and Hafiz Farooqul Hassan have been booked under similar charges in Rawalpindi.
Minister says over 3,000 under protective custody for past one week
Mr Chaudhry said the TLP activists during their protests damaged state and private properties, including vehicles, causing a Rs50 million loss. He regretted that the TLP workers during their protests targeted women and children and used abusive language against state institutions. He said even religious scholars and Ulema in a recent conference had denounced such protests in the name of Namoos-i-Risalat.
He said the state could not be run by allowing some individuals or groups to damage public property or hurling threats at parliamentarians, judges and army generals.
Mr Chaudhry said the TLP people would be tried under Section 124 of the Pakistan Penal Code and they could face “life imprisonment”. He said the people who were present at the scene of violence but did not participate in any crime would be released after seeking ‘heavy assurances’ that in future they should not be found near the people involved in such activities.
Referring to the recent crackdown against the TLP, he said all institutions and intelligence agencies had participated in the operation. He declared that the state would not remain silent on a protest that violated the rights of people and was beyond the ambit of the Constitution and law.
Mr Chaudhry thanked the opposition parties and the media for their support to the state during the crackdown. He said the government had also consulted the opposition parties over its decision to try the TLP leaders on sedition and terrorism charges. He said they had bitterness with the opposition on a number of issues, but they were together if an issue was related to the state.
He evaded repeated questions about the present status of the agreement that the government had signed with the TLP leaders last month in order to persuade them to end their protest. “It was written in the agreement that no one would challenge the Constitution and take law into their own hands. But they [TLP activists] did not implement it. It takes two to tango,” he replied.
Asked if the government could impose a ban on the TLP, the minister said the matter was before the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the Supreme Court, therefore, he could not make any comment. However, he added the government would certainly implement court decisions in letter and spirit.
The TLP activists have been under detention since Nov 23 when their leadership gave a fresh call for observing a ‘martyrs day’ on Nov 25 with the direction to gather at Rawalpindi’s Liaquat Bagh for their onward march to Faizabad — the same venue where the group had staged a sit-in that had virtually paralysed Islamabad for three weeks last year.
The information minister had hinted at taking action against those involved in inciting violence and making seditious speeches during his recent visit to Karachi. He made it clear that the state would not ignore and forgive the acts of damaging the properties and delivering speeches against the government, the judiciary and the army. “The impression that this government is weak will be removed as we take further action,” he said in an apparent reference to the ongoing criticism of the government for entering into a deal with the TLP for ending the last month protests.
“The acts of damaging people’s properties and insulting the country’s political, military and judicial leaderships are unpardonable,” the minister had said, adding: “This is not a religious matter, it is related to rebellion. Should the state ignore mutiny? The credibility of a state that ignores rebellion becomes questionable. Therefore, we cannot turn a blind eye to it.”
The state would not forget and forgive the kind of speeches made against judges of the apex court, the army and the government, he asserted, clarifying that they had resolved the issue temporarily ‘under a strategy’ in order to defuse tension and open the blocked roads in towns and cities.
Published in Dawn, December 2nd, 2018