Government releases hundreds of proscribed group’s supporters from jails, decides to withdraw appeal against release of chief Saad Rizvi
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led government on Tuesday started implementing an as-yet-undisclosed agreement with the proscribed Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), releasing more than 800 workers of the group who had been arrested over the past two weeks.
While the government has kept the details of the agreement secret, ulema who negotiated it have told media that it calls for the release of the TLP’s detained workers, as well as its chief Saad Hussain Rizvi. The agreement also sees a reversion of the group’s “proscribed” status, with Mufti Munibur Rehman claiming it would be able to participate in “mainstream politics” within 10 days.
The agreement, which was signed on Sunday, envisages a series of steps from both the government and the TLP. In the first phase, the TLP was required to clear roads blocked by its supporters, followed by the release of their workers. Eventually, according to government officials, the protesters would end their sit-in at Wazirabad and return to their homes.
On Tuesday, the Punjab Home Department confirmed that 860 people who did not have any formal charges framed against them had been released from prisons across the province. Authorities said they expected to release several hundred more over the next 24 hours.
The execution of the agreement is being overseen by a steering committee led by Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan. The committee also includes Punjab Law Minister Raja Basharat, secretaries of the federal interior ministry, the additional chief secretary of the Punjab Home Department, and several members of the TLP’s leadership.
Appearing on several talk shows on Tuesday evening, minister Khan confirmed that the government had decided to withdraw its appeal against the release of TLP leader Saad Rizvi. However, he refused to confirm when Rizvi would be released, saying only that it was “under process.”
The Reuters news agency, citing sources within the government and the TLP, reported that the group had agreed to abandon the politics of violence and withdraw a demand for the expulsion of the French ambassador over the publication of blasphemous caricatures by a satirical magazine.
Saylani Welfare Trust Chairman Maulana Bashir Farooqui, who was present during negotiations between the TLP and the government, told a private broadcaster that the terms of the agreement could not be made public until 10 days had passed. However, he claimed, it did not “go against the national interest.” He also claimed that the state had accepted that the TLP was not a terrorist group and would operate as a “mainstream” political party.
The PTI-led government “banned” the TLP in April following violent protests, and arrested chief Rizvi. The latest secret settlement comes after seven police officers were martyred by TLP rioters and hundreds more wounded. There is no word on whether the deal contains any provisions to ensure justice for the deceased.