Pakistan blocked off some roads leading to its capital city Islamabad after protestors took to streets and blocked a major highway. The protestors, members of an Islamist party that supports stringent blasphemy laws, were demanding the resignation of a minister who they claim introduced changes to an electoral oath.
Several Pakistanis have been put on the death row after being convicted of insulting Islam’s prophet. Under the country’s strict blasphemy laws such charges carry death sentence, although so far no one has been executed for it.
Over 500 protestors belonging to the Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan party, which is also known as the Movement of the Prophet’s Followers chanted slogans vowing to give up their lives to protect the blasphemy laws while speakers addressed them standing on a cargo truck.
The protestors are demanding the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid who they believe is responsible for the changes made to the law, and have denounced him as a blasphemer.
One of the speakers urged him to appear before the crowd and “beg for forgiveness”.
A couple of high court lawyers present at the sit-in said they would help further Labaik’s agenda in the courts. One of them alleged that Hamid had insulted the blasphemy laws, which was punishable by death.
The country’s interior ministry is yet to comment on the situation.
Government Apology Not Accepted
The governing party Pakistani Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had introduced several small changes to the nation’s electoral law one of which was the alteration of the oath.
Religious parties however opposed the changes and accused the government of blasphemy. The government apologised subsequently in parliament, calling the changes a “clerical mistake”.
Unsatisfied with the apology Tehreek-e-Labaik launched a protest that involved a march of around 400 km starting from Lahore and culminated with a sit-in on a key highway near Islamabad.
Rapid Rise Of Tehreek-e-Labaik Seen This Year
Tehreek-e-Labaik gained prominence in September this year, after being voted into the third place in a bye-election in Lahore, pushing out a major opposition party to pick up 6 percent of the vote.
In another bye-election held in the city of Peshawar last month, it gained almost 8 percent.
Although Tehrik-e-Labaik may not become a major challenger in coming elections, the rapid increase in its popularly could pose a problem for the PML-N.
The sit-in by the party this week on the highway resulted in dozens of trucks getting delayed due to blockades put up by city authorities. Daily life was affected as citizens couldn’t use the public transport.