Thousands of people rallied in Karachi on Friday in a massive anti-Shia demonstration, sparking fears that it could lead to a fresh round of sectarian violence in Pakistan.
Social media in the country was filled with posts, stunning photographs and videos of the protest, in which a sea of protestors was seen chanting "Shias are Kaffir" (disbelievers) and holding banners of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, a terrorist organisation, linked to the killing of Shias over the years. The hashtag #ShiaGenocide soon began trending on Pakistani social media.
The protest came in the wake of some major Shia leaders in the country who allegedly made disparaging remarks against Islam in a televised broadcast of an Ashura procession last month, according to media reports.
Afreen, an activist, said that several Shia Muslims have been attacked for reciting religious scriptures and partaking in Ashura commemorations since the beginning of Muharram.
Ashura commemorates the martyrdom of Prophet Muhammad's grandson Hussein and his followers at the Battle of Karbala in present-day Iraq in 680 AD.
"Since the start of Muharram, we have seen numerous Shia believers targetted for reciting religious scriptures and partaking in Ashura commemorations. This demonstration should not be taken lightly when our brothers and sisters are being kidnapped and killed for their beliefs," Afreen said in a tweet.
The activist said that Prime Minister Imran Khan should be held accountable as his government is supporting hate speech against Shia Muslims. She also said she was told that there was a demand to proscribe Ashura processions in Pakistan.
"Some years ago, Shias in Pakistan were receiving anonymous text messages that said 'kill the Shia'. Terrorists hurled grenades where Ashura processions were taking place. The Shia in Kashmir and Kabul are also under siege and yet some still believe #ShiaGenocide is a myth," Afreen said in another tweet.
She wrote, "I have been told that one demand was to proscribe Ashura processions in Pakistan. It should be made clear that Pakistan's government has allowed known terrorists to spread their anti-Shia rhetoric far and wide. @ImranKhanPTI should be held accountable (sic)."
One twitter user wrote: " I am a #Shia living n Karachi. Yesterday, my city echoed with the chants of Kafir Kafir Shia Kafir. Few hrs later, state arrested #BilalFarooqi who is one of the rare journalists covering sectarian violence/orgs. If this is not step by step towards #ShiaGenocide then what it is?" Another user posted on the microblogging site: "Sectarian terrorist outfit threatening Shia openly today after Friday prayers whereas those who condemn them are arrested. This is a legit proof of why Pakistan is complicit in #ShiaGenocide(sic)."
Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Pakistan, and people convicted are given the death penalty for allegedly making insensitive remarks on Islam.
In the last few decades, sectarian violence has gripped Pakistan with Shia and Ahmadi believers being attacked and their shrines targetted.