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Pakistani Court Orders Arrest of Cleric Linked to Islamabad Protests

FILE - Khadim Hussain Rizvi, founder of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, gestures during a news conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, Nov. 26, 2017.
FILE - Khadim Hussain Rizvi, founder of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, gestures during a news conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, Nov. 26, 2017.

A court in Islamabad issued an arrest warrant this week for Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the founder of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), in connection with last year's protests that turned violent and disrupted public order in Islamabad for nearly three weeks.

The Anti-Terrorism Court in Islamabad is hearing three cases against Khadim Rizvi, his accomplices and the demonstrators, accusing them of terrorism, violence and attacks on security forces during the Islamabad sit-in last November.

Earlier this month, the court declared Rizvi a fugitive following his failure to appear before the court despite several summonses.

The court directed law enforcement authorities on Tuesday to arrest Rizvi and present him along with others accused during the next court hearing, scheduled for April 4.

Islamabad sit-in

Rizvi, along with thousands of his followers, staged a sit-in November 6, 2017, that paralyzed the capital for 20 days.

He and his followers demanded the federal government remove Law Minister Zahid Hamid, whom they accused of committing blasphemy over an omission in a parliamentary bill that introduced modification in the so-called "Khatm-I Nabuwwat" oath, which emphasizes that prophecy ends with Prophet Muhammad.

The Elections Act of 2017 attempted to change a phrase in the official oath of the country, from "I solemnly swear" to "I believe." The modification never materialized because of pressure from critics like Rizvi, who insisted that the oath ought to remain unchanged.

TLP members alleged that it was a deliberate effort by the government to favor Ahmadis, a religious minority in the country who call themselves Muslims but do not believe in the closure of prophecy. The government does not recognize this group as Muslims, and critics of the oath believe the phrase targets and singles out Ahmadis because when taking the oath of allegiance, they are pushed to disclose their faith by swearing the Muslim creed.

FILE - A Tehreek-e-Labbaik rally is pictured in Islamabad, Pakistan, Nov. 8 2017.
FILE - A Tehreek-e-Labbaik rally is pictured in Islamabad, Pakistan, Nov. 8 2017.

The government first refused Rizvi's demands but later compromised after the efforts to disperse protesters by security forces turned violent and led to a series of demonstrations in other Pakistan cities as well.

Pakistan's military mediated between the civilian government and the protesters at the time to reach an agreement.

"On the assurance of the chief of the army staff, we are calling off the sit-in," Rizvi told a crowd after the negotiations but before calling off the protest.

Party history

TLP is an Islamist party and was established last year in August. The party was inspired by the actions of Mumtaz Qadri, who assassinated Punjab Governor Salman Taseer in 2011 because Taseer had demanded changes to the country's controversial anti-blasphemy law and Qadri disagreed with his stance.

Qadri was serving as Taseer's bodyguard at the time of the assassination.

After being found guilty of murder, Qadri was sentenced to death and hanged in February 2017.

Qadri's grave has since turned into a shrine. Large numbers of people visit it regularly and pay tribute to him.

Now, TLP demands sharia be imposed as the law of Pakistan.

Founder's background

Rizvi, commonly known as Khadim Rizvi, is from Attock, in Punjab province. He is a Sunni Muslim and once worked as a religious cleric in a mosque in Lahore, where he used to deliver Friday sermons before prayers.

He also served as a government employee in the religious affairs department of Punjab, but was fired from his job after he continued to hail Qadri for killing Taseer.

Rizvi came into prominence after he launched Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan and vowed to continue the ideology and legacy of Qadri.

Since its start, the party has been a challenger in several by-elections in Pakistan and backed contestants who openly praised Qadri and vowed to defend his stance and legacy.

The party is registered with the Election Commission of Pakistan.

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    Madeeha Anwar

    Madeeha Anwar is a multimedia journalist with Voice of America's Extremism Watch Desk in Washington where she primarily focuses on extremism in the South Asia region.

    Follow Madeeha on Twitter at @MadeehaAnwar