Pakistan Army summoned as police operation fails to remove agitators; over 200 injured, some dead
After Islamabad, the anti-blasphemy protests started spreading to some other cities by Saturday evening.
The Pakistan government ordered the Army into Islamabad late Saturday to help clear out protestors from a major highway, even as the anti-blasphemy agitation spread to some other major cities. Over 200 people were reported to be injured and some killed as a police operation to remove agitators failed earlier in the day.
In a meeting between the government and police on Saturday evening, all officials were reportedly against relaunching the operation, the Dawn reported. The military will be deployed across Islamabad, including main judicial offices, the Parliament House, and the President’s and the Prime Minister’s residences.
Earlier in the day, 8,500 elite police and paramilitary troops in riot gear began to clear out the protestors from Faizabad Intergate, the main gate between Islamabad and Rawalpindi. They used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the protestors. A police officer was killed.
The injured included at least 65 members of the security forces, Reuters reported, citing hospital data. Though police claimed there were no deaths, protestors said four of their activists had been killed. The leader of the agitating Islamist group has refused to surrender.
Meanwhile, protestors also blocked roads in Karachi and Lahore. Protestors also attacked Law Minister Zahid Hamid’s house in Sialkot.
Protestors of the hardline Tehreek-i-Labaik have blocked the road leading from Islamabad to Rawalpindi since November 8, demanding that Hamid resign for allegedly amending a sworn oath affirming a politician’s belief in the finality of prophethood, during the passage of the Elections Act, 2017. The government had deemed the amendment a “clerical error” and rectified it, but this did not appease the protestors.
The Islamabad High Court, the Pakistan Supreme Court and the heads of various religious parties have called the protest unlawful. The Islamabad High Court has said that the protest’s leaders have committed an act of terror.
News channels, social media blocked
Private news channels in Islamabad went off air on Saturday after the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority suspended their transmission. An unidentified Pemra spokesperson told The Express Tribune that Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had issued the order.
Journalists and social media users in Pakistan also complained that networking websites like Facebook and Twitter had been blocked.
Geo TV reported that access to social media platforms was temporarily restored after 3 pm local time (3.30 pm Indian Standard Time) on Saturday but was blocked again soon after.
Earlier on Saturday, Pemra had issued a notification prohibiting live media coverage of the Faizabad sit-in operation. The regulatory authority had asked television channels to “exhibit utmost sensitivity” while reporting on the security operation in Faizabad, and comply with laws related to electronic media in Pakistan. However, channels were blacked out after they violated the order.