ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government said on Wednesday the chief of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan [TLP] party and its supporters who were involved in violent street protests last week would have to face terrorism and murder charges while a special committee would finally decide on the question of banning the group.
Violent protests by the religious political party rocked the country when TLP chief Saad Rizvi was arrested in Lahore last week for threatening the government with rallies if it did not expel the French envoy to Islamabad over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) published in France last year.
The government said it would ban the party last week after its members blocked main highways, railways and access routes to major cities, assaulting police and burning public property. On Tuesday, the TLP ended its nationwide after the government called a parliamentary vote on whether to expel the French ambassador, saying it would halt criminal cases against the group’s members.
But on Wednesday, interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told reporters the law would take its course.
“A total of 210 FIRs [criminal cases] will go through the legal process and this includes Saad Rizvi’s case as well,” Ahmed said while addressing a press conference in Islamabad, adding that the TLP chief was booked under terrorism and murder charges. “Anyone who breaks the law will be dealt with as per the law.”
The minister said the group could appeal the government’s decision to ban it within 30 days and plead its case in-person or through a lawyer.
Legal experts have said the government was bound to file a reference with the Supreme Court within 15 days of its declaration to ban a party. That decision needs to be upheld by the top court for the party to be dissolved.
Four police officers were killed, 11 taken hostage and more than 800 wounded, many seriously, during last week’s clashes, the government has said. The TLP says three of its members were killed.
Prime Minister Imran Khan warned on Monday Pakistan risked paying a big price if it expelled the French envoy, as half the country’s exports are sold to the European Union.
Nevertheless, Interior Minister Ahmed said on Tuesday the government had agreed “after long negotiations with the TLP” to put a resolution before parliament on whether to expel the ambassador.
The TLP responded by releasing an audio statement of its spokesman Shafiq Amini saying: “It is requested to end protests wherever they are happening across the country.”