RAWALPINDI: Eighty-six activists of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) were shifted to Attock jail amid tight security after an anti-terrorism court sentenced each of them to a minimum of 55 years in prison for attacking police, attempted murder and damaging public property in violent rallies against the arrest of their leadership.

The convicts included TLP chief’s brother Ameer Hussain and nephew Mohammad Ali, besides Qari Mushtaq and Gulzar Ahmed, who were awarded 57-year prison term. The remaining 82 activists were sentenced to 55 years in prison.

The ATC also imposed a fine of Rs13 million on the convicts and directed the provincial authorities to seize their moveable and immoveable assets.

Convicts sentenced to a minimum of 55-year prison term; Rs13m fine imposed; govt ordered to seize their assets

They were convicted under Sections 186 (obstructing public servant from dischwarging duties), 188 (disobedience to the legal orders), 324 (attempted murder), 353 (assault on public servant), 440 (criminal trespassing), 441 (criminal trespass) and 427 (damaging public property) of the Pakistan Penal Code, Section 16 of the Maintenance of Public Order and Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997.

The Pindigheb police had arrested them on Nov 24, 2018 when they turned violent in protest against the arrest of TLP chief Khadim Husain Rizvi.

In all, 32 prosecution witnesses were produced in the case. During the trial, the district public prosecutor, Haq Nawaz Minhas, testified that the violent TLP activists had injured assistant sub-inspectors Azhar Munir, Zafar Iqbal and Mohammad Hayat during the clashes.

ATC Judge Shaukat Kamal Dar, who had reserved a verdict in the case on Jan 16, announced it on Thursday. Shortly after the pronouncement of the judgement, the convicts were moved to Attock jail in the vehicles of the Elite Force.

The TLP leadership along with Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah leaders had been arrested by security forces in Lahore in 2018. Later, activists of the two parties took to the streets and blocked traffic on major roads to protest against the arrest of their leaderships. Following the unrest and severe clashes with police, contingents of Pakistan Rangers took control of the arteries of Lahore.

Prior to the agitation, a police officer said, a senior police officer, Iqbal Town SP Syed Ali, and his guards were taken hostage by TLP activists near Multan Road where police commandos and anti-riot force personnel had to be dispatched.

The arrests came months after the party had staged a sit-in in Islamabad against a Supreme Court verdict acquitting Aasia Bibi in a blasphemy case. The government says the arrests had nothing to do with the sit-in.

Pir Ejaz Ashrafi, a senior leader of the TLP, argued that the protests had been held against TLP chief’s arrest, not Aasia Bibi’s acquittal, adds AFP.

He said that 86 members of their group were convicted after the trial that lasted more than a year. “This is murder of justice and the sentences given are quite ruthless and harsh,” he said, adding that the party would challenge the verdict in the Lahore High Court.

Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2020