Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) chief Saad Hussain Rizvi has been detained by security forces in Lahore, the party leadership confirmed on Monday.
Lahore police chief Ghulam Mahmood Dogar said Rizvi was detained to “maintain law and order”.
Another senior police official told Dawn he was taken into custody on Monday as a "pre-emptive measure" ahead of TLP's April 20 deadline. No first information report (FIR) against the TLP central emir has been registered so far.
Protests broke out in all major cities of the country following the development, while a TLP worker was reportedly shot dead during a demonstration in Karachi.
AFP staff saw police use tear gas and water cannon to disperse thousands of protesters who blocked streets and intersections in Lahore.
In a video message, TLP naib emir Syed Zaheerul Hassan Shah said the government had "completely deviated from" the agreement it had reached with the TLP regarding Namoos-i-Risalat.
"The government has resorted to thuggery (gunda gardi) and is restoring its past practices," he said, confirming Rizvi's arrest.
Shah called upon TLP leaders and workers to "come out on the roads" in their areas in protest against the government action.
“Carry out protest demonstrations on roads and wherever you are, jam the entire country," he told them in the message.
TLP member Khalid Awan told Dawn that the TLP chief was taken into custody on the way back from leading a funeral prayer and was currently being kept at the Gulshan-i-Ravi police station. He said the government had "turned back on its promise" to expel the French ambassador by April 20 and took Rizvi into custody.
"We will not step back from our mission because of Saad Rizvi's arrest," he said.
The TLP had previously called off protests in February after an agreement was signed between the group and the government in which it was decided that the government would present the terms of an earlier agreement signed between them last year in the parliament before April 20.
That earlier agreement had stated that the government would reach a consensus in the parliament regarding the expulsion of the French ambassador within three months, would not appoint its ambassador to France and would release all the arrested workers of the TLP. The government would also not register any case against TLP leaders or workers, it stated.
Following news of Rizvi's arrest, TLP workers blocked roads and thoroughfares across the country, putting traffic out of gear and travellers stuck in vehicles.
In a statement, the TLP naib emir said the party's workers had "paralysed the entire country", adding that Lahore had been sealed from 24 points.
He further said the road link between Sindh and Balochistan had been cut off, while important roads in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as well as Islamabad's Faizabad Interchange had been blocked.
"Only Allama Saad Hussain Rizvi will be able to order the sit-ins to be ended," he added.
Protests were held on numerous roads and in many areas in Karachi including Baldia No. 4 Hub River Road, Northern Bypass, Orangi Town No. 5, Jinnah Bridge (traffic blocked from ICI towards Jinnah Bridge), University Road and Star Gate.
According to Chippa, a man identified as Talha Alam was shot dead in Orangi Town No. 5. A spokesperson for the charity said the man died during firing at the protest sit-in.
The TLP in its WhatsApp group shared the picture of the deceased, saying he was shot dead during the protest. Police did not issue a statement to this effect.
However, a police statement said a police constable was injured in Orangi Town No. 5 after TLP supporters protesting the arrest of some TLP workers pelted stones on police.
During a similar protest at Bakra Hotel near Tower, two police constables were injured during stone-pelting by TLP workers.
In Lahore, several roads and entry and exit points were closed due to TLP protests. At least three residents confirmed being stuck in traffic jams due to the demonstrations.
Protestors blocked the following roads and spots in the city: Faletti Chowk towards Faisal Chowk; High Court Chowk towards Regal Chowk; Avari Chowk towards Governor House Chowk (now opened); Corporation Chowk Outfall Road; Yateem Khana Chowk; Khayaban Chowk; Muhafiz Town towards Thokkar Chowk EME Road; Darogawala Chowk towards Quaid-e-Azam Interchange (both sides); Chungi Amarsadhu towards Kasur (both sides); Shahdara Chowk from all four sides; Shadbagh; Joray Pul Zarar Shaheed Road; Barki Road; Bhatta Chowk Bedian Road; Walton Road; Canal Road; Cup store Misrishah; Harbanspura Interchange (slip roads); Shalimar Chowk towards Ghas Mandi; Quaid-e-Azam Interchange to Niazi Shaheed Interchange on Ring Road; Bagriyan Chowk; and Sundar Road.
TLP workers also gathered at Committee Chowk in Rawalpindi, where they restored to stone-pelting and forced travellers to stop their cars.
Workers of the party also climbed atop the Liaquat Bagh metro bus station, while traffic blockages were reported from across the city.
A traffic jam was also seen on Murree Road where TLP protesters were chanting slogans.
Due to the protest, the metro bus service was suspended in Rawalpindi. Protesters gathered on the metro track and pelted stones on police personnel, who were in riot gear.
The president of Sunni Ulema Council Adiala Road, Sahibzada Hafiz Shahid Mehmood Qadri was also taken into custody by police.
In the capital, TLP workers forcefully blocked Uthal Chowk in Bhara Kahu area. The chowk's closure led to a complete halt in the flow of traffic coming from Murree.
The protests also spread to highways and motorways. Sections of the Islamabad-Lahore Motorway and Lahore-Abdul Hakim Motorway were closed, while the National Highway (N-5) was closed at 20 locations in different zones.
In Hyderabad, all connecting roads of Hyder Chowk witnessed a severe gridlock after TLP activists blocked the city's main roundabout.
The protest that started at 4pm was led by TLP Hyderabad chapter leader Ghulam Qadir Malkani, coordination secretary Imran Qureshi and information secretary Raheel Siddiqui.
The roads that remained jammed for several hours included Old Campus, Miran Mohammad Shah, Risala Road, Station Road, Saddar area, etc.
In the evening, the TLP leadership allowed one artery to reopen that goes towards Old Campus from Hyder Chowk.
TLP workers also staged a demonstration on the Bahawalpur Bypass due to which long queues of vehicles were witnessed.
Protests were also reported in Basti Malook, Ada Lar, Khanwel and area others.
Due to the demonstrations, in which TLP workers chanted anti-government slogans, the road link between Multan and different cities of southern Punjab was cut off. Security was beefed up across Multan in view of the situation.
Agreements with TLP
Last year, dozens of policemen and TLP workers were injured when clashes broke out between the protesters and police in Rawalpindi.
Riot police had to resort to teargas shelling against the stone-pelting protesters who had gathered on the call of former TLP chief Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi to denounce the publication of blasphemous caricatures in Charlie Hebdo magazine and remarks about Islam and terrorism by French President Emmanuel Macron.
More than 200 protesters had also been rounded up by police ahead of the protests. The protesters had dispersed after an agreement was signed between the government and TLP on November 16, 2020.
The agreement reached in February said that the government had not yet implemented the terms of the Nov 2020 agreement.
"Negotiations have been going on between the government of Pakistan and TLP on this problem for a month during which the government has reaffirmed its resolve. Terms of the [previous] agreement will be presented in parliament by April 20, 2021, and decisions will be taken with the approval of the parliament," the agreement read.
It also said that names of TLP members that had been placed on the Fourth Schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) would be removed.
With additional reporting by Tahir Naseer in Rawalpindi, Shakeel Qarar in Islamabad, Mohammad Hussain Khan in Hyderabad, Taser Subhani in Multan and The Associated Press.