Conflicting reports emerged on Tuesday regarding the release of Saad Hussain Rizvi, chief of the recently proscribed Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), from Lahore's Kot Lakhpat jail.
Public relations officer of the Punjab prisons department, Attiq Ahmed, told Dawn.com that Rizvi, who had been taken into custody by police on April 12, was released from prison today.
The same was confirmed by TLP leader Faizan Ahmed, who added that Rizvi is expected to address the party's supporters.
Jail superintendent Asad Warraich, when approached by Dawn.com, however said he had no information about Rizvi's release and that no release order had been received so far.
The government has not commented on the status of the TLP chief, even though there has been a breakthrough in talks between both sides. Dawn.com has reached out to government and police officials, including Punjab Law Minister Raja Basharat and Punjab Minister for Prisons Fayyazul Hassan Chohan, for verification.
Reports circulating on social media also differ on Rizvi's current status with some saying that the government has decided not to release the TLP chief while others said that he has been let go and has reached his supporters.
Rizvi's party has been pressing the government for the expulsion of the French ambassador to Pakistan ever since blasphemous caricatures of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) were published in France and their publication was supported by the French president.
News of Rizvi's reported release came hours before a National Assembly session was scheduled to take place to vote on the expulsion of the French ambassador.
The special NA session is in line with the agreement reached between the TLP and the government in November last year to involve parliament in order to decide the matter in three months.
As the Feb 16 deadline neared, the government had expressed its inability to implement the agreement and had sought more time. The TLP had then agreed to delay its protest by two-and-a-half months to April 20.
Last week, Rizvi, in a video message, had asked TLP workers to be ready to launch a long march if government failed to meet the deadline. The move had prompted the government to arrest him on April 12.
Police had swooped on Rizvi at around 2pm on Wahdat Road in Lahore where he had gone to attend a funeral. Outraged, the TLP had issued a call for countrywide protests.
The next day, police registered an FIR against the TLP chief under sections of the Anti-Terrorism Act. Within the next few hours, protesters took to the streets in Lahore and blocked the Grand Trunk Road on a number of points.
All main cities like Lahore, Gujranwala, Islamabad and Peshawar were cut off from each other and the rest of the country. The activists held sit-ins at various points in Hyderabad and Sukkur. They blocked highways, motorways and train tracks, disrupting life in a better part of the country and causing violence as protesters clashed with police at many places.
The violence claimed several lives and left hundreds injured before the government announced on April 15 it had decided to ban the TLP under the anti-terrorism law.
With the situation remaining tense in Lahore, police and TLP workers clashed near Nawankot on April 18, resulting in the deaths of at least two people while 11 policemen were taken hostage by the TLP at its headquarters in chowk Yateem Khana.
Since then, the government has been engaged in talks with the party, which resulted in the release of the captured policemen, to resolve the matter once and for all.
Govt to table resolution on French envoy’s expulsion
Earlier today, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed announced a breakthrough in talks with TLP, saying that the government will present a resolution on the expulsion of the French ambassador in the National Assembly while the party had agreed to call off all protests across the country.
"Talks with the party will continue," he said. The minister said cases registered against TLP workers under the Fourth Schedule will also be withdrawn, adding that he will give a detailed briefing on the development via a press conference later today.
Rashid had not said anything on the release of party chief Saad Rizvi at the time.