LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistan on Saturday detained scores of protesters in a continuing crackdown against followers of a hardline Islamic cleric who led three days of protests over blasphemy laws and whose arrest overnight triggered violent clashes with police.
Members of cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi’s Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) party had shut down major cities in protest earlier this month at the acquittal of a Christian woman who had spent eight years on death row on blasphemy charges.
At least five people were wounded in last night’s clashes between Rizvi’s supporters and police in the eastern city of Lahore after police arrested the cleric on Friday night.
A spokesman for the Punjab chief minister’s office said Rizvi’s second-in-command, Afzal Qadri, had also been detained.
“Afzal Qadri and Khadim Rizvi have been sent to jail. Qadri has been admitted to the jail’s hospital. A crackdown is underway across Punjab against TLP activists,” Shahbaz Gill told Reuters.
Information Minister Fawwad Chaudhry said on Twitter that Rizvi had been placed in protective custody after he refused to withdraw a call for further protests on Sunday.
“It’s to safeguard public life, property and order,” he said.
Rizvi had urged his supporters to take to the streets if he was arrested. Late on Friday his son said he had been taken away in a raid on his religious school, or madrassa, in Lahore.
A police document seen by Reuters listed 10 other leaders of Rizvi’s group who had also been detained.
TLP leaders had threatened the Supreme Court judges who acquitted Asia Bibi - urging their cooks and servants to kill them.
But the group called off protests following negotiations with the government and an agreement to open a review of the court’s decision on Bibi.
It is unclear whether Rizvi will appear before a court to face charges. Pakistan has detained Islamist leaders in the past but failed to keep them in custody.
Bibi and her family are in hiding after her release. She was convicted in 2010 for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbors objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim. She has always denied committing blasphemy.
In 2011, a bodyguard assassinated Punjab provincial governor Salman Taseer after he began pushing for Bibi’s acquittal. The TLP was founded out of a movement that supported the assassin, Mumtaz Qadri.
Writing by Saad Sayeed; Editing by Stephen Coates