The ATC verdict gives 86 TLP activists, including Rizvi’s brother and nephew, a 55-year prison sentence and a fine.But the TLP is far from defeated
Tehrik-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) is in the spotlight again after an anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Rawalpindi gave a 55-year prison sentence each to 86 TLP activists including a brother and a nephew of its chief charged with rioting against the police; and filmmaker Sarmad Khoosat’s flick Zindagi Tamasha’s approval for screening by censor board was delayed in the wake of several applications filed against the movie by TLP, its activists and several other religious groups.
The court that was hearing a case registered with Pindigheb police station for attacking police and common people and damaging public and private property after the police arrested TLP Chief Khadim Rizvi in November 2018, also imposed a Rs135,000 fine on each convict on January 17. All convicts were taken to Attock Jail in buses, heavily escorted by security forces.
After Khadim Rizvi’s arrest and release after a written apology, some analysts had started believing that the TLP had lost its support and was weakened in its stronghold Punjab. But ground reality is altogether different from the perception, suggest the TLP’s activities.
According to details shared with The News on Sunday by TLP sources, Rizvi and his aides have been holding meetings frequently in all major cities of the Punjab. Their aim is strengthen their ranks and expand their support. Rizvi delivers Friday sermons at TLP’s headquarters at Multan Road, Lahore; he visits other cities with his followers to address huge public meetings.
The Zindagi Tamasha controversy also indicates that the TLP has not lost its influence in the society and with the state institutions. The Tehrik is the major complainant against theme and dialogues of the film.
An official of the censor board, seeking anonymity since he is not authorised to talk to media, tells TNS, “We have received dozens of complaints by religious groups against the film but TLP was the first to move against it. We were left with no other option except referring the issue to the government to avoid chaos in the society. The complainants are powerful and can cripple the country by blocking the streets, we fear.”
Patron-in-chief of TLP Afzal Qadri, in presence of Khadim Rizvi, had directly threatened judges of the Supreme Court and top military leaders after Aasia Bibi was released. Qadri was also arrested and released on health grounds after he too tendered a written apology.
The official’s fears might be true despite the ATC’s decision against TLP activists. Patron-in-chief of TLP Afzal Qadri, in presence of Khadim Rizvi, had directly threatened judges of the Supreme Court and top military leaders after Aasia Bibi was released. Qadri was also arrested and released on health grounds after he too tendered a written apology. The two top guns of TLP are out while their 86 followers face unprecedented punishment.
Advocate Fahim Alvi says, “I believe that the ATC’s decision would be set aside by higher courts as has happened in several cases of mob attacks. In the legal fraternity nobody takes such a decision against 86 people seriously.”
Analyst and political commentator Khaled Ahmed tells TNS, “I don’t think that the TLP has lost its support. I think they are working and expanding their network.”
He says no one had expected that a force would rise from shrines and would become a symbol of power. “The TLP is now more powerful than any other religious group in Pakistan. It has a following within every institution of Pakistan due to which decision-makers are afraid of them.”
Chief spokesman of TLP, Maulana Ejaz Ashrafi, tells TNS, “The ATC’s decision amounts to killing justice. What are the charges against our 86 activists? They reacted against the arrest of their dear leader and took to the streets. What about those who occupied the federal capital for 126 days, attacked PTV, thrashed police officials and committed contempt of Supreme Court and the Parliament?”
He says not even a single person from the parties who directly attacked police with guns, batons and slingshots, ransacked PTV and abused judges and the parliament had been convicted.
“We are being targeted by the current government because the rulers want to please their foreign masters because TLP stands for protection of Finality of Prophethood.”
Ashrafi says that the TLP has not given up and expects justice from the superior courts. “We have filed an appeal in Lahore High Court,” he adds.
He says that the TLP has also moved an application against Khoosat’s film as it contains objectionable dialogues and the story revolves around religious persons. “Now, we are waiting for the opinion of the Council for Islamic Ideology (CII). We hope that the CII will not allow exhibition of the film. Otherwise, we have other options like moving courts.”
Filmmaker Khoosat has said in a social media message that the film is not meant to hurt
anybody. He has also said that he has been receiving threatening messages.
Khaled Ahmed says that TLP might flex its muscle again using the film controversy. This, he says, would show the people that it has not only not lost its strength but indeed gained some.