FILE - Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during an international conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, Feb. 17, 2020.
FILE - Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during an international conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, Feb. 17, 2020.

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is urging Western governments to criminalize any insulting remarks against Islam’s Prophet Muhammad and treat offenders the same way they do those who deny the Holocaust.

Khan spoke Saturday after violent nationwide protests this week by a radical Islamist party demanding expulsion of the French ambassador over the publication of cartoons in France depicting the prophet, an act condemned as blasphemous.

Khan tweeted: “Those in the West, incl extreme right politicians, who deliberately indulge in such abuse & hate under guise of freedom of speech clearly lack moral sense & courage to apologize to the 1.3 bn Muslims for causing this hurt.”

He also called on Western governments that have outlawed negative comments about the Holocaust "to use the same standards to penalize those deliberately spreading their message of hate against Muslims by abusing our Prophet.”

Many European countries have laws that criminalize the Holocaust denial, an act of negating the Nazi genocide of European Jews, and offenders can end up in jail.

Activists of the radical Islamist party Tehreek-i-Labaik Pakistan protested in the streets Monday shortly after Pakistani authorities arrested their leader, Saad Rizvi.

Officials defended the arrest, saying Rizvi was planning to march on Islamabad, with thousands of supporters set to besiege the capital to pressure the government to expel the French ambassador.

Thousands of angry protesters blocked key highways, causing traffic jams, paralyzing business and routine life for three days in Pakistan. Police attempts to disperse the protesters sparked violent clashes that killed four law enforcers and injured more than 600 others.

The demonstrations were eventually dispersed, but the unprecedented direct attacks on police provoked the government Thursday to outlaw TLP for indulging in terrorist attacks against the state.

FILE - A supporter of the Tehreek-i-Labaik Pakistan Islamist political party hurls stones toward police during a protest against the arrest of its leader in Lahore, Pakistan, April 13, 2021.

Khan on Saturday defended the ban on TLP and vehemently dismissed suggestions the move had stemmed from international pressure on Pakistan.

“Let me make clear to people here & abroad: Our govt only took action against TLP under our anti-terrorist law when they challenged the writ of the state and used street violence & attacking the public & law enforcers,” the prime minister wrote on Twitter. “No one can be above the law and the Constitution.”

TLP leaders have recently organized several major street protests, disrupting routine life and business in the country.

Along with demonstrations against France, the extremist group has pressured the Pakistani government into not repealing or reforming the country’s harsh blasphemy laws, which critics say often are used to intimidate religious minorities and settle personal disputes.

French urged to leave

On Thursday, France advised citizens and companies to temporarily leave Pakistan, citing “serious threats to French interests” in the South Asian nation.

Most of the French nationals are said to have ignored the advisory, however, and have chosen to stay in Pakistan, the AFP news agency reported Saturday.

Pakistani officials insisted there were no safety concerns for foreign nationals in the country.

“We are aware of the advice, which appears to be based on their own assessment of the situation,” Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri said. “For its part, the government is taking enhanced measures for the maintenance of law and order and preventing any damage to life and property."

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