Police late on Friday detained a hardline cleric whose party recently paralyzed the country with violent protests over the acquittal of a Christian woman accused of blasphemy.
Firebrand cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, who is the leader of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan party, was detained ahead of a scheduled rally on Saturday in Islamabad, the country’s information minister Fawad Chaudhry tweeted.
“Khadim Hussain Rizvi has been taken into protective custody by police and shifted to a guest house,” Chaudhry tweeted, adding that the move was not linked to the case of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who was on death row for eight years before the Supreme Court overturned her blasphemy conviction last month. “It’s to safeguard public life, property and order and has to do nothing with [the] Aasia Bibi case,” Chaudhry tweeted. “Law shall take its course and it cannot be left to individuals,” he added.
The court’s decision sparked furious demonstrations led by the hardline Labaik, with protesters calling for Bibi’s execution as they blocked major roads, leaving large swathes of the country paralyzed. In response, the government made a deal with the Islamists to impose a travel ban on Bibi, who was released from jail earlier this month as she awaits the outcome of a final review of her case.
Labaik has vowed to return to the streets if she is allowed to leave the country.
In a video message released on Friday, another Labaik leader Pir Afzal Qadri called for fresh protests, saying police had arrested dozens of party workers in Karachi and in parts of central Punjab province, including Lahore.
Blasphemy is a massively inflammatory issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations of insulting Islam can lead to lynchings and murders.
Bibi’s conviction stemmed from a 2009 incident when she was asked to fetch water while out working in the fields. Muslim women laborers objected to her touching the water bowl as a non-Muslim, and a fight reportedly erupted. A local imam then claimed Bibi insulted Islam’s Prophet.
Bibi has consistently denied the charges, and her prosecution rallied international rights groups, politicians and religious figures.