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Pakistan arrests Khadim Hussain Rizvi, firebrand Muslim cleric who demands death of Christian woman Asia Bibi for ‘blasphemy’

  • Protests led by Khadim Hussain Rizvi seeking the execution of Asia Bibi have shut down major cities across Pakistan
  • Asia Bibi was acquitted of blasphemy by Pakistan’s Supreme Court, leading Rizvi’s supporters to call for the death of the judges
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 November, 2018, 5:01am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 November, 2018, 9:57pm

Pakistani authorities on Friday night arrested an ultra-right religious party leader whose followers have shut down major cities demanding stricter application of stringent laws on blasphemy against Islam, and the execution of Christian woman Asia Bibi.

Prominent cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi’s supporters clashed with police in the eastern city of Lahore soon after he was taken away, with at least five people wounded, police said.

Rizvi earlier this month led nationwide protests over the Supreme Court’s acquittal and release of Asia Bibi, who had spent eight years on death row on a blasphemy conviction.

He had urged his supporters earlier in the day to take to the streets if he was arrested, and late on Friday night his son said he had been taken away in a raid on his religious school, or madrassa, in Lahore.

Relatives of Asia Bibi, Christian woman cleared of blasphemy, are hunted ‘house to house’ in Pakistan

“Police raided our madrassa and arrested our revered leader,” Saad Rizvi said by telephone.

Rizvi leads the Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) party, which earlier this month blocked roads in Pakistan’s biggest cities for three days and threatened the Supreme Court judges who acquitted Asia Bibi – urging their cooks and servants to kill them.

The TLP ended the initial protests following negotiations with the government and an agreement to open a review of the court’s decision on Bibi.

Bibi and her family are in hiding after her release, and the ultra-Islamist TLP said any sign of allowing her to leave the country would result in new protests.

Her lawyer has fled Pakistan, fearing he would be killed.

Asia Bibi freed from Pakistani prison after spending eight years on death row for blasphemy

Blasphemy against Islam’s Prophet Mohammed is punishable with a mandatory death sentence in Pakistan, and the very mention of blasphemy is enough to inflame violent reactions.

Bibi was convicted in 2010 for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbours objected to her drinking water from a shared cup because she was not Muslim. She always denied having committed blasphemy.

In 2011, a bodyguard assassinated Punjab provincial governor Salman Taseer after he began supporting Bibi and pushing for her acquittal. The TLP was founded out of a movement that supported the assassin, Mumtaz Qadri.

Friday night’s detention of Rizvi appeared to set up a new confrontation, with the cleric urging supporters to “jam the whole country” if he was arrested.

“The whole nation should come out in the field to protect the honour of the Prophet,” he said in a video message released by the TLP. “There is no other option left now.”