After days of staging protests in Lahore's streets, the banned Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) announced on Thursday that it will start a "long march" towards Islamabad on Friday, according to a statement issued by the TLP media cell.
"The peaceful Namoos-i-Risalat march of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan towards Islamabad will start after Friday prayers" from the TLP's markaz (headquarters), the statement said, adding that the group also had a "plan B" in case its members were stopped from marching on the capital.
Hundreds of TLP workers have been participating in a sit-in in Lahore to exert pressure on the Punjab government for the release of its chief, Hafiz Saad Hussain Rizvi, the son of its late founder Khadim Rizvi. The younger Rizvi has been kept in detention by the Punjab government since April 12 for “maintenance of public order".
In a statement issued prior to the announcement of the long march, the TLP's Majlis-i-Shura (executive council) had decried that the group's members had been staging a "peaceful protest" in the streets for the past 15 days, yet their demand for the implementation of an agreement reached between them and the government earlier this year remained unmet.
The agreement required the government to present the terms of a previous accord — signed between the two sides last year following protests by the TLP in a bid to pressurise the government to expel the French ambassador over the publication of blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) — in parliament before April 20. The earlier agreement had said the government would reach a consensus in parliament regarding the expulsion of the French ambassador within three months, would not appoint its ambassador to France, would release all the arrested workers of the TLP and would also not register any case against the TLP leaders or workers in connection with the matter.
The TLP's executive council had said in its statement that the government had promised the implementation of the agreement within three days of the signing of the accord but none of the commitments had been fulfilled even after the passage of six months. It had warned the government of announcing a plan of action if its demands remained unfulfilled.
"We have tried staging protests without blocking roads and have exposed the ugly face of the government to the public," it had said, adding that a minister from Prime Minister Imran Khan's cabinet had agreed to the terms of the agreement and now he was in denial.
'Crackdown on TLP'
The group has also claimed that scores of its members have been detained by the police during the ongoing protests.
A TLP spokesperson told Dawn.com that police had taken more than thousands of the group's members into custody.
According to Dawn, the crackdown was launched after a meeting chaired by Inspector General of Police, Punjab Rao Sardar Ali Khan late on Monday. The report quoted an official as saying that the meeting had decided to launch a massive crackdown against the TLP for creating a law and order situation.
However, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid said on Thursday the government would not take any action against a group, be it the TLP or Pakistan Democratic Movement, if they protested within the ambit of the law.
“As we saw yesterday [during the TLP’s protest] that such demonstrations cause traffic jams, [but] action would [only] be taken against them if they take the law into their hands,” the minister said while speaking to the media in Islamabad.
He added that accepting the TLP’s demand of expelling the French ambassador would lead to the severing of ties with the entire European Union.
The TLP had taken out a massive rally on 12th of Rabiul Awwal (Tuesday), where its senior leaders delivered fiery speeches, accusing the government of using delay tactics in releasing Saad Rizvi.
Addressing the participants, a member of TLP’s central executive, Syed Afzaal Hussain Shah, had made an announcement that a new series of protests would be launched.
Later, hundreds of TLP workers had reached outside its headquarters in groups and blocked both sides of the busy Multan Road by staging the sit-in there.
Afzaal had told the charged activists that the plan for the fresh agitation would be unveiled on Thursday at 5pm.
Later, the TLP's executive council had also given an ultimatum to the government to fulfil the agreement between them, or it would announce another "plan of action on Thursday by 5pm."
It had said in a statement that already several TLP workers had lost their lives and had warned the government against making a move that would lead to further "bloodshed".
The members of the executive council had further stated that they were still open to "peaceful negotiation" with the government before going ahead with their next plan of action.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Interior, on the request of the Punjab Home Department, had asked the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to block internet services in Samanabad, Sherkot, Nawankot, Gulshan-i-Ravi, Sabzazar and Iqbal Town areas of Lahore "for maintaining law and order situation".
The notification for the blocking of the internet, issued on October 20, stated that internet services were to be suspended in the said areas with immediate effect till further request for the reopening of the services.