A case under blasphemy laws was registered in Faisalabad against PTI Chairman and former prime minister Imran Khan and other top figures of the previous government, it emerged on Sunday, days after pilgrims converged on Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif's delegation and chanted slogans in Masjid-i-Nabwi.

The FIR, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, has been registered under Sections 295 (harming or defiling a place of worship with intent to insult a religion), 295-A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs), 296 (disturbing religious assembly) and 109 (abetment) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

The FIR, registered on the complaint of a common citizen Muhammad Naeem in Faisalabad, names key PTI leaders and associates — Fawad Chaudhry, Shahbaz Gill, Qasim Suri, Sahibzada Jahangir, Aneel Musarrat as well as former interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed. Rashid's nephew, Sheikh Rashid Shafiq, has also been named in the FIR.

According to the complainant, the incident at Masjid-i-Nabwi was carried out under a "planned and thought out scheme and conspiracy". He said that his claims were supported by the videos that are being shared on electronic and social media as well as through speeches made by certain PTI leaders.

He alleged that Imran Khan, Fawad Chaudhry, Sheikh Rashid, Shahbaz Gill and Qasim Suri were part of a conspiracy under which other PTI leaders then led delegations to Saudi Arabia to carry out the actions at the holy mosque, which were then posted on social media outlets.

Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said that there was no justification to not register a case against those who violate the sanctity of Roza-i-Rasool (peace be upon him).

Pilgrims were instigated under a plan, the minister said, adding that some of the people had travelled to Saudi Arabia from Britain. "There can be no forgiveness for what these people have done," he said.

At a press conference in Lahore alongside Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar later in the day, Sanaullah explained the need for the FIR, explaining that if people weren't provided with a way to address their concerns —particularly those related to religion and beliefs — in a legal manner then it could lead to them taking the situation into their own hands.

He assured that the investigation in the case would be conducted on merit and in accordance with the law, with the prime minister having issued specific directions in that regard.

Sanaullah criticised the PTI, saying it was a "misfortune" that the party, whose members have been accused of being behind the incident, still hadn't condemned the affair.

Regarding legal reservations being raised regarding the FIR, he said they would be considered.

The law minister, meanwhile, condemned the incident and said he had been instructed by the prime minister to check the legal status of the case. Tarar said the Pakistan Penal Code and criminal laws allow punishment of individuals for their actions abroad if the said actions were crimes in Pakistan.

He, too, reiterated that the investigation would be conducted on merit and the federal government would issue instructions to the province that no illegal action is taken.

Tarar said it was the job of the government to strike a balance and assured that he would be the "last person" in whose presence there would be human rights or legal violations.

Filing of FIR ‘sickening and abhorrent’

Reacting to the news, former minister Chaudhry said: "A series of FIRs ordered under instructions of interior ministry, bring it on we will fight."

Former human rights minister Shireen Mazari, in a series of tweets, said she was not surprised by the "dirty tricks" of registering a "fake FIR" by Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, whom she described as a "shameless criminal".

She further said that the move showed that Shehbaz Sharif — whom she dubbed the "crime minister" — and "his cabal of crooks brought in by US regime change conspiracy getting desperate because they have no legitimacy amongst nation".

Mazari also criticised PPP and deemed it "unfortunate" that the "dark shadows continue to provide invisible cloak of protection to such low life criminal actions by their chosen ones". She also tagged Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar in her tweet.

PTI's Karachi chapter vice-president Awab Alvi said that "blasphemy [accusation] is the start of a pathetic series of attacks on Imran Khan".

"If they know him over the years nothing can damage his credibility," he added.

Lawyer and human rights activist Jibran Nasir said that police "can't register FIR under 295-A on a citizen's complaint, instead, it requires complaint on the government's order as per Section 196 of the Code of Criminal Procedure".

According to him, the FIR against Imran was either defective or lodged on the government's orders.

Journalist Marvi Sirmed expressed shock at the registration of the blasphemy case against Imran and termed the move as "totally insane". She urged Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to avoid doing it.

Activist Ammar Ali Jan also disapproved of the FIR accusing PTI leaders of blasphemy.

"Use of blasphemy allegations to settle political scores is unacceptable. Politics should be based on ideological differences rather than the cynical manipulation of religion. This will give more fodder to extremists," he said in a tweet.

Economist Uzair Younus termed the blasphemy case against Imran as "sickening and abhorrent", saying the "cynical misuse" of the law was still continuing in the country.

Madina incident happened 'on Imran Khan's orders'

Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb laid the blame for the events in Madina squarely on Imran.

"You were the claimant of the state of Madina but you took the filth of your thinking to Madina [and] you incited people there to violence," Aurangzeb said while addressing a press conference in Islamabad.

She alleged that Imran had misused the Prophet's Mosque for his own politics and asked: "What was the benefit?"

"It ended up costing you instead since it was the [Holy] Prophet's [PBUH] home," she added.

Aurangzeb also blamed the PTI chairman for the arrests made by the Saudi authorities after the incident, saying the public was incited to "violence and hatred" because of Imran while the main enablers were flown back to London.

"The entire planning for this was done on Imran Khan's orders. I was present there and saw those people (those acting on Imran's alleged orders) myself as they were signalling and getting sloganeering carried out in Masjid-i-Nabwi."

The information minister said the PTI chairman would soon find out the consequences of his actions.

Fawad says Sheikh Rashid's nephew 'kidnapped'

Meanwhile, Chaudhry alleged that Shafiq had been "kidnapped" from the airport. The statement came as media outlets reported that he had been arrested at the Islamabad airport.

"So far, his family has not been given information about his whereabouts," Chaudhry said on Twitter, adding that a kidnapping attempt had also been made on the former interior minister. "The PTI strongly condemns these actions."

In an earlier tweet, he said that the "imported government" believed that it could scare the people. "These fools are only hastening their end," he said.

Sheikh Rashid, in a statement said that the government had resorted to exacting revenge. "Raids are being carried out after the registration of the case," he said, adding that people would shout slogans against the government wherever it went.

Later in the day, Sheikh Rashid told reporters that whatever happened at the holy site was condemnable.

However, he stressed even if the government arrested more of his nephews, such measures would not deter him from supporting Imran Khan.

He said the government would bear the brunt of its own actions if it continued to lodge "false cases" against its opponents. In response to a question, Rashid said he believed the month of May would be "dangerous" for the country.

'Weaponising blasphemy'

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan called for the cases to be withdrawn immediately. "No government or political party can afford to allow allegations of blasphemy to be weaponised against its rivals," it said.

Pilgrims accost, chant slogans against PM Shehbaz, federal ministers

On Friday, a group of Pakistani pilgrims had accosted, heckled and chanted slogans at Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his entourage at the Masjid-i-Nabwi in Madina during their three-day visit — their first foreign trip since assuming office — to Saudi Arabia.

According to videos circulating on social media, Pakistani pilgrims at the mosque started chanting slogans of "chor, chor" (thieves, thieves) as soon as they saw the prime minister.

In another video, the pilgrims could be seen heckling and hurling obscenities at federal ministers Marriyum Aurangzeb and Shahzain Bugti, as the pair are escorted by Saudi guards. In another video, a pilgrim could be seen pulling Bugti's hair from behind.

Following the incident, the media director of the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Islamabad confirmed that some of the pilgrims involved in the incident had been arrested. The official said that the protesters had been taken into custody for "violating the regulations" and "disrespecting" the sanctity of the holy mosque.

Politicians and other religious figures had swiftly condemned the incident, however, some had blamed the PTI. For his part, Imran Khan said he could "not even imagine" asking anyone to carry out sloganeering at the sacred place.

"I have spoken about Islamophobia at every forum," he said in a snippet from an interview that will be aired on the first day of Eidul Fitr.

"The reason for doing so is my belief that until you do not love Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), your faith is not complete. I cannot think of asking anyone to do sloganeering at that sacred place. Nobody who loves the Prophet (PBUH) can even think of it," he said.

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