Islamabad: Thousands of supporters of Mumtaz Qadri, who was hanged for killing liberal Punjab governor Salman Taseer, on Monday besieged the Pakistani capital’s high-security zone demanding that the Islamist assassin be declared a “martyr”. On Sunday, about 25,000 protesters prayed for Qadri in Rawalpindi, a month after he was hanged for shooting Taseer, and then marched towards Islamabad’s Red Zone, breaking barriers that had been erected.
Of the 25,000, about 3,000 supporters of Qadri continued their sit ins outside the Parliament House and other key government installations for the second day today agitating against the execution of Qadri who was hanged on February 29 for the 2011 murder of Taseer, reports PTI. Police and Rangers fired tear gas shells on the protesters yesterday in a bid to contain them.
At least 42 security officials and 16 citizens were injured in the clashes which followed, Geo News reported. The media bore the brunt of the protesters’ fury as they attacked media persons, injuring some of them and damaging their equipment. The protesters claimed that the media was not covering the event in an objective manner.
About 10,000 protesters led by Sunni Tehreek and Tehreek- i-Labbaik Ya Rasool religious groups entered the so-called high-security Red Zone after bloody clashes with police. The worsening law and order forced the government to deploy the army to control the situation. The protesters said they would stay in the Red Zone unless Qadri was declared a martyr and Sharia law implemented in the country. They also demanded release of their leaders and conversion of Qadri’s Adiala Jail cell into a national heritage site.
The protesters are demanding that the government scrap any plans to amend the blasphemy laws, and execute all those convicted of blasphemy, including Aasia Bibi, the Christian woman who was sentenced to death in 2010 that triggered a global outcry.
Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Islamic Pakistan, with even unproven allegations often triggering mob violence. The controversial law was introduced by former military dictator Zia-ul Haq in 1980s and so far hundreds of people have been charged under it. An official said that so far the government has not resorted to use of force to evict the protesters as back channel efforts were on to convince the protest leaders to disperse peacefully.
Meanwhile, residents of the capital and nearby Rawalpindi faced immense problems as mobile phone services were suspended in several areas while Internet was also slow. Additional security checks were applied at various entry points leading to the capital and traffic was thin on roads.