Radical Pakistani cleric dies after leading sit-in
LAHORE, Pakistan Khadim Hussein Rizvi, a radical Pakistani religious scholar who this week led thousands of supporters to a sit-in in Islamabad for the reposting in France of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, which they deem blasphemous, died Thursday. He was 54 years old.
According to the spokesperson for the cleric and a doctor at the hospital where Rizvi was taken in the eastern city of Lahore, he had symptoms similar to COVID-19 but had not been tested for the coronavirus.
Doctor Salman Ahmed said Rizvi had had a high fever for four days and developed severe breathing problems on Thursday. He was then taken to hospital where he died.
The protest by Rizvi’s party, Tehreek-e-Labiak, began on Sunday on the outskirts of the capital, Islamabad, where protesters and Pakistani security forces briefly clashed, prompting police to fire tear gas at people. demonstrators throwing stones. The rally was part of a series organized across the country to express outrage at the cartoons.
After the violence in Islamabad ended, protesters staged a sit-in that ended early Tuesday after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government pledged their demands to cut diplomatic relations with France and expel the The French Ambassador would be discussed in Parliament in three months.
The sit-in drew thousands of men who sat for two days, crammed with few masks. Tehreek-e-Labiak spokesman Shafiq Amini said the government also agreed to release all arrested party members.
The radical Islamist party rose to prominence in the 2018 Pakistani federal election, campaigning on a unique agenda: to defend the country’s controversial blasphemy law that calls for the death penalty for anyone who insults Islam. The party won only two provincial seats in southern Sindh province, although the Rizvi rallies generally drew tens of thousands of people.
In conservative Pakistan, the simple accusation of blasphemy can lead to mobs rioting. Rizvi also led the protests last year, when Khan’s government released Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman held in the death row for eight years on blasphemy charges. A court acquitted her, but she had to flee to Canada after receiving death threats.
The cartoons of the prophets sparked protests in Asia and the Middle East, with calls to boycott French products. They have also been seen as the trigger for several deadly attacks against French nationals and interests in recent weeks.
Tehreek-e-Labiak has a history of protests and sit-ins to assert their demands. In November 2017, his supporters staged a 21-day protest and sit-in after a reference to the sanctity of the Prophet Muhammad was removed from the text of a government form.
Khan tweeted his condolences for Rizvi’s death while Minister of Religious Affairs Peer Noor ul Haq Qadi called the cleric “a great Islamic scholar and lover of the prophet.”
Rizvi’s funeral is expected to draw tens of thousands of people at a time when coronavirus cases in Pakistan are steadily increasing. Pakistan has reported more than 365,900 cases of the virus and 7,248 deaths.
Tanveer reported from Islamabad. Associated Press writer Kathy Gannon in Islamabad contributed to this report.
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