ISLAMABAD - Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry on Saturday said that the government has registered cases against the key leaders of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan on charges of sedition and terrorism.

A case has been registered against firebrand cleric and TLP leader Khadim Rizvi on charges of sedition and terrorism at a police station in Lahore, he told a news conference here.

The minister said same charges have been filed against Pir Afzal Qadri, Hafiz Farooqul Hassan and other TLP leaders for inciting violence, arson and damage to public and private property during their protest in the first week of November.

He informed case against Rizvi has been filed at Civil Line Police Station, Lahore while Pir Afzal Qadri was booked in Gujrat. Cases against Hafiz Farooqul Hassan and Iniyatullah Haq have been registered at the Rawat Police Station of Rawalpindi.

The TLP had led protests across the country against the acquittal of Christian woman Aasia Bibi from blasphemy charges by the Supreme Court in October.

At many places the demonstrations turned violent and protesters blocked major roads, burnt cars and buses, and left large swathes of the country paralysed for three days.

Fawad Chaudhry said the leadership of TLP incited the people to disrupt the system. During the violent protests, one leader of TLP called for mutiny against the military chief, the murder of the judges who acquitted Asia Bibi, and branded Prime Minister Imran Khan as a “son of Jews.”

The minister said these charges can carry a life term in prison.

“Other people who were directly involved in destruction of properties, insulting women and snatching their purses, burning buses, have been charged in terrorism cases,” he said, adding that the miscreants had damaged public property worth Rs50 million.

Fawad said a large operation was launched by police based on intelligence. He said during the operation, 2,899 people were taken in protective custody in Punjab, 139 in Sindh and 126 in Islamabad.

He said those, who were not directly involved in violence, would be released after taking surety bonds from them that they would not participate in such illegal activities in future.

The government signed an agreement with the protesters at that time to bring about a quick end to protests - but launched a crackdown a few weeks later when the TLP threatened to launch another protest.

Protest is a legal and constitutional right of all citizens but state will not allow its writ to be challenged, the minister made it clear.

He said all main opposition parties were taken on board before the launch of this operation. He thanked the opposition and media for extending full support to the government on this national issue.

To a question, he said all the religious scholars were unanimous in saying that the politics practised by TLP was not appropriate and they have distanced themselves from their acts.

Asked about the opposition’s criticism to the government’s economic policies, the minister said “we are a scandal-less government”. Not even a single scandal surfaced against any government official in the first one hundred days, he claimed.

“Our vision is to take forward the country and the economy will witness improvement in the long run.”

The minister expressed his surprise over the statement of the Indian army chief linking his country’s engagement with Pakistan till its “secularization”.

Pointing out that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had given a positive statement on the corridor, he said it appears the Indian army chief is not under the control of Modi. He said India needs to clarify whether the decisions are taken by its military or the civilian leadership.

He said Prime Minister Imran Khan wanted to facilitate religious tourism in the region. Like Kartarpura for the Sikh community, a temple in Kashmir and Katas Raj temple in Chakwal were sacred for Hindus while a huge Buddha statue had been unearthed in Haripur, he added.

Responding to a question about anti-encroachment drive, the minister categorically stated that it will be taken forward without taking into consideration any pressure.

Old and fake videos regarding the anti-encroachment operation had gone viral on social media under a conspiracy to malign the government, he added.

About the operation against encroachers in Karachi, the minister said it was not under the domain of federal government as it was being carried out by the provincial and city governments on the Supreme Court’s directives.

Answering another query, he said some 500 kanal of government land worth Rs350 billion had been retrieved from illegal occupants in Islamabad and 88,000 acres in Punjab during the operation against the land grabbers.

He said the prime minister had given clear-cut directions to the Capital Development Authority (CDA) and provincial authorities to retrieve the government land from the occupants.