–Punjab govt spokesman says authorities facing ‘difficulty’ in arresting fiery cleric
–Says Law Minister Sanaullah is holding dialogue with TLP leadership for peaceful end to sit-in protest
–Punjab CM gives approval to increase number of loudspeakers in mosques on ulema’s recommendation
LAHORE: Punjab government spokesman Malik Ahmed Khan on Wednesday conceded that provincial authorities are not able to arrest Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi and his companions.
Talking about the current TLP protest sit-in near Lahore’s Data Darbar shrine, Khan said that Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah is in constant contact with the protesters as the government wants the protest to conclude through dialogue.
On Tuesday, Rizvi had threatened to hold nationwide protests in case government failed to deliver the controversial army-brokered agreement during the Faizabad sit-in last year.
However since the Islamabad High Court has already declared the agreement null and void due to which the demands cannot be fulfilled, Khan said.
What seems to be a development in negotiations, Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif has given the approval to increase the number of loudspeakers from one to four in mosques for azaan and khutbah purposes on the recommendation of the ulema, Sanaullah announced.
He said that the ulema and khatib could now use four loudspeakers in mosques, adding that increasing the number was aimed to provide an ease in the audio transmission. He further said that the Punjab government had always respected the religious and national services of the ulema.
On Tuesday, an anti-terrorism court (ATC) declared Rizvi and other party leaders as proclaimed offenders in cases related to the last year’s Faizabad sit-in, with Rizvi threatening to hold nationwide protests if the government failed to implement the controversial army-brokered Faizabad agreement.
Rizvi, who was declared an absconder later in the day, has been leading a TLP sit-in outside Data Darbar in Lahore since Monday.
The leaders at the protest announced that if the conditions stated in the apparently one-sided Faizabad agreement — which had become a cause of much controversy for carrying signatures of an army general as a mediator — were not met, they will announce their future course of action via a press conference at 4pm on Wednesday.
Earlier, the ATC judge declared the TLYR chief and other absconding suspects proclaimed offenders over their continued absence from the trial despite being summoned multiple times. Others declared absconders by the court in cases filed during and after last year’s Faizabad sit-in include Pir Afzal Qadri, Maulana Inayatullah and Sheikh Azhar.
The Labbaik leader along with other religious activists are facing multiple charges, including terrorism, in several cases that were registered in 26 police stations across the federal capital after the Faizabad protests.
At the previous hearing, the court had issued non-bailable arrest warrants for Khadim Hussain Rizvi along with other absconding suspects in 14 cases related to the Faizabad sit-in held last year.
ATC Judge Shahrukh Arjumand had issued arrest warrants in five cases regarding the Islamabad protests that were registered in the I-9 police station after Rizvi and other suspects had refused to appear in court for the hearing.
However, despite multiple arrest warrants issued by the courts, the police is reluctant to arrest the fiery cleric fearing a repeat of violent protests by armed cadres of the extremist religio-political outfit.
Aabpara police informed the court that summons were posted outside Rizvi’s residence and the notice board of the relevant police station. It requested the court to take the cases forward in absence of the accused.
Religious parties led by TLP chief Rizvi held a sit-in at Faizabad Interchange in the federal capital following the passage of the Elections Act 2017, which they believed deliberately modified the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat oath as part of some conspiracy. The amendment to the oath had been explained as a ‘clerical error’ by the government and subsequently rectified through an Act of Parliament.
Nonetheless, the protesters had occupied the Faizabad Interchange, which connects Rawalpindi and Islamabad through the Islamabad Expressway and Murree Road — both of which are the busiest roads in the twin cities.
Rizvi was one of the central figures of the protests that disrupted life in the twin cities for nearly 20 days.
The government had initiated several rounds of negotiations with the protesters but failed each time.
The sit-in lasted nearly three weeks and culminated after an operation to end the protest by the government failed, following which the army brokered an ‘agreement’ between the state and the protesters, the terms of which included the resignation of former law minister Zahid Hamid.
The agreement had been seen as a complete surrender by the state to the protesters.
Protesters had been demanding action against those behind the controversial amendment in Khatm-e-Nabuwat declaration.
Former premier Nawaz Sharif had also expressed displeasure over the mishandling of the sit-in and the surrender of his party’s government to the protesters to end the sit-in.