Pakistan had called in the army to quell protests after two people were killed
A hardline Islamist movement has spearheaded the demonstrations
Protesters in Pakistan are dispersing Monday after the country’s law minister Zahid Hamid resigned under pressure following weekend clashes that killed two people.
For weeks, protesters have been demanding Hamid’s resignation because they claimed a change in the wording of the oath of office weakened rules requiring lawmakers to reference the Prophet Mohammed.
The government has apologized and denied making the changes, calling them clerical mistakes.
The issue came to a head on the weekend, when the government called in Pakistan’s armed paramilitary force to remove protesters who’ve been blocking a key road between Islamabad and the neighboring city of Rawalpindi.
Law enforcement moved in to break up the crowd Saturday following the expiration of a Thursday deadline to disperse issued by Pakistan Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal.
Video from the scene showed officers carrying sticks and firing tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters. Groups of protesters could be seen throwing rocks with their hands or using slingshots.
At least two people have died and more than 250 others were injured in street demonstrations, according to hospital officials.
Accusations of blasphemy
For more than two weeks, the protesters had focused their ire on a proposed legislative change they claimed would soften electoral laws.
Prompted by radical Islamists, the demonstrators claim the proposed bill was blasphemous because they weakened rules requiring politicians to properly reference the Prophet Mohammed.
Under pressure to appease the protesters, Hamid over the weekend released a video that was shared on social media in which he read the oath and said that he loved the Prophet “from the depth of my heart,” adding that he and his family were “prepared to lay down our lives for the honor and sanctity,” of Islam’s holy Prophet.
The protesters have largely been spurred by Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the leader of Tehreek-e Labbaik Pakistan, a hardline Islamist movement.
Speaking to a crowd of protesters on Monday, Rizvi issued a set of demands, including calling on the government to release all protesters who’d been detained by security forces since demonstrations began on November 6.
He said only when that happens will he call off the protests. He gave the government 12 hours to meet his conditions, but already, crowds were dispersing.
Allegations of blasphemy have incited violence in Pakistan in the past. In June this year a 30-year-old man was sentenced to death over a series of Facebook posts that were deemed to use “derogatory remarks … in respect of the Holy Prophet.”
In March 2017, the Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said “nothing can be greater than our religion to us” when discussing purportedly blasphemous content online.