Protests in Pakistan after Islamist leader’s arrest

Police in the eastern city of Lahore on Monday arrested Saad Rizvi, the leader of an influential far-right Islamist party, to “maintain law and order,” said Ghulam Mohammad Dogar, chief of Lahore police.

Rizvi, who heads the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party, is demanding that the government expel the French ambassador over depictions of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad published in the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last year.

Rizvi called on Pakistan’s leadership to honor what he claims was a commitment made in February to expel the French envoy before April 20.

The government responded that it had only committed to discussing the matter in Parliament.

News of Rizvi’s arrest triggered protests by his supporters. Thousands of TLP activists took to the streets in cities including Lahore, Karachi and Rawalpindi.

Violent demonstrations spread through Pakistan following the arrest of Saad Rizvi, leader of the far right Tehreek-e-Labaik party

Protesters also blocked the main highway between Lahore and Islamabad, as well as some roads in the southern port city of Karachi and elsewhere throughout the country.

Why target France and Charlie Hebdo?

French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo last year republished cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in its edition marking the start of the trial against the surviving terrorists involved in the deadly attacks on the magazine’s offices in 2015.

It had published several such images in the years preceding the attacks, with the terrorists claiming they had chosen the target on this basis.

Although there’s no mention of the issue in the Quran, Islamic scholars broadly agree that depictions of Muhammad should be forbidden. Many Muslims find such depictions distasteful.

In Pakistan, publishing such images could be a criminal offense on charges of blasphemy, the concept of having insulted a religion or a deity, which is no longer a crime in much of the world.

Terror attacks in France since 2015 December 11, 2018: Strasbourg shooting A gunman opened fire at a Christmas market in the eastern city of Strasbourg, home to the European Parliament. At least two people were killed and 12 injured. Prosecutors opened a terror investigation. France immediately raised its national security alert to its highest level in anticipation of copycat attacks.

Terror attacks in France since 2015 May 12, 2018: Paris knife attack A man wielding a knife attacks bystanders in a central neighborhood in Paris, killing one person and wounding another four. French prosecutors open a terror probe into the attack, citing witness accounts that the assailant shouted “Allahu akbar” (“God is greatest”). The militant “Islamic State” (IS) group claims responsibility for the attack, calling the knifeman one of their “soldiers.”

Terror attacks in France since 2015 March 23, 2018: Trebes hostage crisis An attacker claiming allegiance to IS perpetrates a string of violent crimes in the southern town of Trebes during the morning hours. He kills a man while stealing a car and then fires shots at police officers before entering a Super U grocery store, where he takes hostages. Police shoot dead the attacker. Four people are killed, including including policeman Arnaud Beltrame.

Terror attacks in France since 2015 October 1, 2017: Marseille train station knife attack A man fatally stabs two women at the Marseille train station. The perpetrator, Ahmed Hanachi, is shot dead by police on patrol. IS claims responsibility for the attack in a post by its news agency Amaq. In it, they call Hanachi one of the group’s “soldiers.” Two Interior Ministry officials resign after it is revealed that Hanachi was an undocumented immigrant who they had failed to detain.

Terror attacks in France since 2015 April 20, 2017: Champs-Elysees police shooting A gunman opens fire on police on the Champs-Elysees, Paris’ most iconic boulevard. One police officer is killed and two individuals are injured before police shoot the gunman dead. A note praising IS is found next to the gunman’s body. The terrorist group also claims responsibility. The attack occurs just days before the first round of the French presidential election. Security is tightened.

Terror attacks in France since 2015 February 3, 2017: Machete attempt at Louvre Soldiers shoot and severely injure a knife-wielding man outside the Louvre museum in Paris after he assails them. One soldier is lightly injured. The attacker had two further machetes in his backpack. A subsequent investigation reveals the Egyptian national had traveled to France from Dubai on a valid tourist visa. A Twitter account associated with the man’s name refers to IS in posts.

Terror attacks in France since 2015 July 26, 2016: Murder of Normandy priest Two teens enter a church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, Normandy and slit the throat of an 85-year-old priest in front of five parishioners. Police shoot the 19-year-olds dead as they try to leave. IS takes responsibility and publishes a video of the teens pledging allegiance to the group. Many French Muslims attend the next Sunday’s Mass to show solidarity with Catholics and condemn the attack.

Terror attacks in France since 2015 July 14, 2016: Truck attack in Nice On Bastille Day, France’s national holiday, a truck drives through crowds in Nice that had gathered to watch the fireworks on a major seaside promenade. Before being shot dead by police, the driver kills 86 and injuries more than 400 others. IS claims responsibility, stating that the attacker had responded to IS calls to target civilians living in coalition nations fighting IS in Syria and Iraq.

Terror attacks in France since 2015 November 13, 2015: Paris attacks France’s most deadly terror attack: IS jihadis armed with automatic weapons and explosives undertake coordinated attacks in Paris including at the Bataclan concert hall, the national stadium and various street cafes. The mass shootings and suicide bombings kill 130 people, injuring hundreds more. IS claims responsibility. Then-President Francois Hollande calls it an act of war by IS.

Terror attacks in France since 2015 August 21, 2015: Thalys train tragedy averted A deadly attack is averted: On a high-speed train from Amsterdam to Paris, a man opens fire with an assault rifle that subsequently jams. Other train passengers tackle the man, preventing deadly violence. Four are injured including the attacker. The assailant had been known to French security officials for past drug-related activities and statements in defense of radical Islamist violence.

Terror attacks in France since 2015 June 26, 2015: Beheading, truck explosion near Lyon Yassin Salhi beheads his boss and displays the head, along with two Islamic flags, on the gate outside a gas plant near Lyon. He also tries to blow up the factory by driving his van into the gas cylinders. The attempt fails, but unleashes a smaller explosion, injuring two. French authorities claim links between the man and IS. He commits suicide in prison.

Terror attacks in France since 2015 January 7-9, 2015: Charlie Hebdo, Jewish supermarket attack Two men with automatic guns storm the offices of satire magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 and wounding 12 others. A different gunman kills a police officer the next day, then four more during a hostage-taking on January 9 at a kosher grocery. Police eventually shoot all three gunmen dead, but not before they claim allegiance to IS and al-Qaida. Author: Cristina Burack

Anti-France demonstrations spread throughout Pakistan last year after French President Emmanuel Macron defended the right to publish the cartoons in late October, particularly given the publication’s recent history and suffering.

Macron’s comments came shortly after a young Muslim beheaded French school teacher Samuel Paty who had shown the caricatures in a class on freedom of expression that explored the killings at Charlie Hebdo. Paty’s murder brought the issue back to the fore in France and helped lead to new draft security laws which are currently being debated in France’s parliaments.

Watch video 00:26 Teacher killing: Imam slams ‘work of thugs who have nothing to do with our religion’

Why are Rizvi’s TLP party currently protesting?

Rizvi’s TLP party has a history of staging demonstrations and sit-ins to pressure the government to accept its demands.

In November 2017, followers staged a 21-day protest after a reference to the sanctity of the Prophet Muhammad was removed from the text of a government form.

The following year, the party gained prominence during federal elections by campaigning on a single issue: defending the country’s controversial blasphemy laws that can allow for the death penalty for those found to have insulted Islam.

Protests continue in Pakistan as demonstrators demand the expulsion of the French ambassador and boycotts of French good.

Last November, thousands of TLP activists blocked one of the major entrances into the national capital, Islamabad in protests over the offensive cartoons, demanding the government boycott French products and expel the French ambassador.

Though the government promised to discuss the expulsion, Rizvi — who became the group’s leader after the sudden death of his father in November — on Sunday threatened more demonstrations if the French envoy was not expelled by April 20.

mb/msh (AP, dpa)