Around 160 people demonstrating in support of Salmaan Taseer’s assassin taken into custody from two separate rallies.
Police arrested 160 people on Wednesday at a rally to celebrate the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, who was murdered over calls for Pakistan’s blasphemy laws to be reformed.
Taseer was gunned down in Islamabad by his own security guard, Mumtaz Qadri, on Jan. 4, 2011 after he spoke out for Aasia Bibi—a Christian mother on death row over blasphemy.
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in Pakistan, and anyone even accused of insulting Islam risks a violent and bloody death at the hands of vigilantes.
Qadri was hanged last year in a step liberals hailed as progressive, but which brought hardliners onto the streets supporting Qadri and demanding Bibi be killed.
Police said around 300 clerics attended two separate rallies in Lahore on Wednesday blocking main roads, under the banner of “Save Islam Movement” and “Lubaik Ya Rasool Allah movement”—referring to the collective name of some hardline Islamist groups. “We have arrested some 160 people who clashed with police,” said senior police official Haider Ashraf.
Another police official said clashes erupted when barricades were placed on roads to prevent the rally from reaching Liberty Market, where Taseer’s supporters were to hold a candlelight vigil to mark the anniversary of his assassination.
Last week hardliners also filed blasphemy charges against Taseer’s son, Shaan Taseer, and issued a fatwa calling for his death after he posted a Christmas video on his Facebook page calling for a review of the blasphemy law and supporting Bibi.
Mohammad Zulfiqar, an organizer of Lubaik Ya Rasool Allah movement, criticized Wednesday’s arrests. “The purpose was to defend Islam and express solidarity with Muslims in Kashmir and Burma,” he said of the rallies. “We also held them to stop the burning of candles for a blasphemer and celebrate the assassination [of Taseer] because on this day Mumtaz Qadri sent a blasphemer to hell.”