Water cannon and tear gas were used to disperse a protest in Islamabad over a law mentioning the Prophet Mohammed, which some considered blasphemy. Dozens of injuries and one death were reported in clashes, which local TV was forbidden to cover live.
On Saturday, Pakistan’s law enforcement launched an operation to break up a rally staged by a Muslim hardline party, the Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah, blocking one of the main roads to the capital city of Islamabad. The protesters are camped out at the Faizabad intersection, where they have been blocking one the of the main traffic arteries to the capital for more than two weeks and refusing to comply with court orders. They are demanding the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid over a reference to the Prophet Mohammed in a bill, seen as blasphemous by the group.
The latest deadline for the participants to abandon the unsanctioned sit-in expired at midnight, and on Saturday morning more than 8,000 security officials moved in to disperse the protesters, according to local media reports. State forces reportedly moved in from five different directions to encircle the 2,000-strong rally.
“Police used water cannons initially and now are firing tear gas shells at the protesters,” police official Saood Tirmizi told Reuters.
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Clashes erupted in the course of the operation with protesters pelting the security forces with stones and reportedly setting two vehicles on fire. One police officer was killed in the clashes, according to Pakistan Daily. Around 110 were injured during the operation, including 30 policemen, local channel GeoTV said.
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Police official Saood Tirmizi told Reuters that dozens had been detained, while local media reported that some 80 people had been taken into custody.
Despite sources telling local media that the intersection had been taken over, the operation is still ongoing and the organizers of the rally say that they are not going to leave.
“We are in our thousands. We will not leave. We will fight until the end,” said Ejaz Ashrafi, the spokesman of the Tehreek-e-Labaik party, which had called the sit-in.
Local satellite TV channels covering the security operation to clear the rally were ordered to “refrain from live coverage” by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PERMA). The regulator also warned the TV crews “to ensure safety” and cooperate with the law enforcement agencies.
MEDIA COVERAGE OF SIT-IN AT FAIZ-E-ABAD, ISLAMABAD pic.twitter.com/YqEGTWpFIR
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The bill that triggered the protests was aimed to amend an electoral oath. It controversially added the obligation to accept “the absolute and unqualified finality of the Prophethood of Muhammad” to the section on the enrolment of non-Muslims, persons with disabilities and transgender citizens. While the amendment was later revoked, it caused outrage among religious groups and calls for the author of the bill to be revealed.