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Karachi

January 20, 2017

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Religious group demands open trial of missing activists

Says will not allow anyone to stage demonstrations
in favour of those accused of blasphemy

Members of the Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY), a religious group, were spoiling for a fight with the civil society that came out in support of the five bloggers and activists that went missing earlier this month.

Standing at the Arts Council roundabout on Thursday, civil society members contemplated if they should move towards the Karachi Press Club as part of their pre-arranged demonstration, but before they could make a decision, TLY workers attempted to push their way through to get to them.

As the atmosphere in the area grew tenser, a contingent of policemen, in the presence of their senior officers, pushed the civil society members towards the Arts Council while barring TLY activists from moving in that direction.

“We won’t allow any group to stage protests in favour of the missing bloggers,” said TLY’s Muhammad Bilal Qadri Rizvi, who had managed to reach the main entrance of the Arts Council with a few other supporters, while civil society members were confined to the council.

“It is said that [state] agencies have abducted the bloggers for running blasphemous pages like ‘Bhensa’ and ‘Roshni’. We demand their immediate presence and open trial in court.”

He claimed that the state agencies had a history of “sheltering blasphemers like Asia Bibi, who was convicted of speaking against sacred personalities”.

The protesters who had come out to counter the civil society’s demo quoted media reports and TV talk shows when they were asked how they knew that the missing bloggers and activists ran the “controversial” social media pages.

“Missing blogger Salman Haider is a blasphemer,” said Abdul Qadir Ashrafi. “He was running pages like ‘Bhensa’.”

TLY official Salman Qadri said that as soon as the party found out about the civil society’s planned demonstration, party leader Syed Zaman Qadri and others contacted government officials and senior police officers to stop them from staging their rally.

“People like [social activist] Jibran Nasir show up in favour of blasphemers,” he said, adding that Western forces always expressed their concerns on disappearances of people accused of blasphemy. “They don’t speak in favour of missing persons in Balochistan.”

He clarified that his party did not support “extrajudicial disappearances”. “It is not our concern who picked them up. We demand that the authorities ensure their presence in a court of law.”

As more contingents of law enforcers were called in to stop the TLY activists from moving towards the Arts Council, some police officers tried to negotiate with the ones who had reached the main gate.

“Haji sahib! Please move from here,” a policeman requested as he gently pulled up Bilal Qadri Rizvi, who was sitting at the council’s gate.

However, as soon as a TLY activist asked Bilal to move away, he started walking. But he told the law enforcer to assure him that the civil society would not be allowed to rally on the issue of missing bloggers and activists. “We won’t let anybody speak against the blasphemy law, let alone shouting slogans in favour of blasphemers,” said the TLY man.

When the party’s workers finally dispersed and moved back towards the press club, the police started clearing off the adjacent roads from an extreme traffic snarl-up.

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