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Charlie Hebdo Protest Turns Violent in Pakistan

Islamist parties in Pakistan on Friday staged rallies against the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for publishing cartoons depicting Islam's Prophet Muhammad. Pakistan's parliament a day earlier unanimously approved a resolution condemning what it called the “blasphemous caricatures.” Under Pakistani laws, blasphemy carries the death penalty.

The government has condemned the January 7 attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris. But many in overwhelmingly-Muslim Pakistan view the magazine's caricatures of Muhammad as a profound insult to Islam.

In Islam, visual representations of all the prophets and messengers of God are prohibited in order to prevent idolatry, and the worshipping of the images themselves rather than God.

Demonstrations were organized across the country after midday Friday prayers and almost all of them ended without incident. In Karachi however, a group of protesters wanted to march on the French consulate and they became violent when police blocked their way. Security forces fired tear gas, water cannon and warning shots to disperse the crowd.

The clashes wounded several people, including a photojournalist with the French news agency AFP. Witnesses and police reported some of the protesters carried guns, blaming them for the casualties. Protest rallies were also organized in other Pakistani cities but all passed peacefully.

Several hundred demonstrators gathered in a central part of the Pakistani capital and shouted slogans denouncing Charlie Hebdo. They demanded the French magazine be closed immediately for insulting Islam’s Prophet. Rally participants were carrying banners that read “Shame on Charlie Hebdo.”

Abdul Manan, a student at Islamabad’s Islamic University, explained his view.

He says that hurting and playing with the sentiments of Muslims by allowing such publications must come to an end. Manan says Islam and Muslims are a peaceful religion and people but they cannot tolerate the insult of their prophet. Such acts are being done repeatedly and can lead to more extremist violence and destroy world peace, he says.

Charlie Hebdo is known for its satirical attacks on religion - Islam and others. Two gunmen attacked its Paris headquarters last week and killed 12 people, including editors, cartoonists and two policemen. But the deadly assault that did not stop Charlie Hebdo from publishing a cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad in the weekly’s new issue this past Wednesday.

Pakistan's parliament on Thursday unanimously adopted a resolution condemning publication of the image and lawmakers later marched outside to protest the French weekly’s latest cover.

Friday’s protests against Charlie Hebdo came the same day civil society groups organized candlelight vigils across Pakistan to mark one month since Islamist extremists attacked a school in the city of Peshawar and massacred 150 people, most of them children. Participants at one such rally in Islamabad demanded the government take serious action against religious extremism.

Protesters were chanting 'down with terrorism' and 'down with the Taliban' and demanded the government arrest Islamist clerics, including a preacher at a mosque in Islamabad for supporting Islamist militancy.

Human rights advocate Tahira Abdullah while speaking to VOA criticized Pakistan's government for not moving against Islamic seminaries that are allegedly involved in promoting religious extremism and terrorism.

“We have laws we have policies, we lack the political will and the commitment," Abdullah said. "Our politicians live in fear, they are cowards. And now we want to have military courts. Why, why? Is it because the army colonel or the major who is going to sit as a judge in the court will go home to a barricaded cantonment home at night? And [civil] judges have no protection, police have no protection, prosecution have no protection, witnesses have no protection. We need to strengthen our existing civilian structures.”

Pakistan has introduced several administrative and legislative measures as part of its counter-terrorism efforts since the Peshawar school attack. The measures include reinstatement of the death penalty and setting up military courts to try civilian terror suspects. Since the school raid, authorities have hanged around 20 people convicted of previous terrorism charges.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the school attack and has threatened more assaults.