ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Saturday the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a rightwing religious political party that has held violent nationwide protests this week over blasphemous French cartoons, was being banned for using violence against law enforcers and citizens, but added that “extremists” in the West who hurt the sentiments of Muslims also needed to apologize.
Protests erupted in Pakistan on Monday, and quickly turned violent, after TLP chief Saad Rizvi was arrested in the eastern city of Lahore, a day after he threatened the government with protests if it did not expel France’s envoy to Islamabad over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) published in France last year.
On Thursday, the interior ministry said it was moving to have the party banned for attacking law enforcement forces and disrupting public life during its protests. The interior ministry’s decision has been approved by the federal cabinet but needs to be ratified by the Supreme Court for the TLP to be dissolved.
“Let me make clear to people here & abroad: Our govt only took action against TLP under our anti-terrorist law when they challenged the writ of the state and used street violence & attacking the public & law enforcers. No one can be above the law and the Constitution,” the PM said in a series of tweets.
However, the PM also called out “extreme right politicians” in the West who he said deliberately hurt the sentiments of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims in the name of freedom on speech: “We demand an apology from these extremists.”
In October last year, protests broke out in several Muslim countries over France’s response to a deadly attack on a teacher who showed cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to his pupils during a civics lesson.
During similar protests in Pakistan, the government negotiated with the TLP and met a number of its demands, including said it would debate expelling the French ambassador in parliament.
A deadline to make that parliamentary move expires on April 20.
The TLP gained prominence in Pakistan’s 2018 federal elections, campaigning to defend the country’s blasphemy law, which calls for the death penalty for anyone who insults Islam. The party also has a history of staging protests and sit-ins to pressure the government to accept its demands.
In November 2017, Rizvi’s followers staged a 21-day protest and sit-in after a reference to the sanctity of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was removed from the text of a government form.