ISLAMABAD/Lahore - Only a day after the government reached an agreement with the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan to get the protests called off throughout the country, it decided to launch a countrywide crackdown on those who caused loss to public and private property.

As part of the crackdown, both federal and Punjab governments of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) have decided to arrest the miscreants involved in acts of violence during the protests and process of registration of cases has been started.

Protests had erupted across the country last Wednesday when the Supreme Court acquitted a Christian woman of the blasphemy charges. Mother of five, Aasia Bibi had been on death row since 2010 after conviction.

During the three-day long protests and sit-ins, the activists of TLP and other religious groups blocked roads and highways crippling life in the whole country. At several places infuriated protesters beat up commuters, torched vehicles and damaged properties.

An interior ministry spokesperson quoting State Minister for Interior Shehryar Khan Afridi said that the government had decided to take action against those people who resorted to violence in the three-day long protests.

“Action will be taken against those miscreants who inflicted loss on the citizens and their properties,” the spokesperson said.

He however added that the government respected the stance of religious leaders that they were not involved in vandalism rather these were violent elements.

The spokesperson said the ministry was taking necessary steps to identify such elements and the state minister had got a briefing from different institutions in this regard.

The spokesperson went on to say that the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA)’s Cyber Crime Wing had also been directed to analyse the hate material circulated on social media in connection with Aasia Bibi case and point out those who were behind spreading of this hate material.

“PTA and Cyber Crime Wing have been directed to collect forensic data about such miscreants and action would be taken against those who spread hate material through social media,” he added.

The interior ministry has also sought from the relevant departments video footages of violent incidents to identify the culprits.

The interior ministry also said that details have been sought from the Punjab government for assessment of the damage to properties.

In the five-point agreement reached with Allam Khadim Rizvi’s TLP the government had agreed to place the name of Aasia Bibi on the Exit Control List (ECL) and refrain from opposing the review petition against the apex court decision. However, the agreement did not mention any compensation for the damages.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry in an interview to a foreign media outlet termed the agreement a temporary solution to end the protests - indicating the government only used it to diffuse the situation. Chaudhry said that there was a need to find out permanent solution to such violent protests.

In a statement, State Minister for Communications Murad Saeed also said that the federal government had decided to take miscreants to task. He said it was the time to establish that calls for protest shouldn’t be taken as a licence to destruction.

“The constitution permits peaceful protests but under no circumstances can it be allowed to damage public and private property,” Saeed remarked. He added that the properties of National Highways & Motorways were damaged all over the country during these protests.

“Billions of rupees will now have to be spent on repair works. We will identify these miscreants and bring them to justice,” he vowed.



Registration of cases in Punjab

A senior official told The Nation that dozens of cases have been registered by police against the protesters at various police stations in Punjab.

“Over two dozen cases have been registered against TLP leaders and followers under different sections of the law including the section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act,” the official said, requesting anonymity.

“Almost all FIRs have been sealed. It means that the police could reopen these FIRs when and where required,” the official explained.

Police sources said the law enforcement agency launched a Punjab-wide crackdown on Saturday and arrested hundreds of protesters after registering FIRs against them on the charges of attacking policemen, blocking roads and damaging public properties.

“Raids are underway in different districts of the province to arrest the miscreants and dozens of people have been detained,” an official said but did not share further details.

Police officially did not confirm any arrest till late Saturday.

TLP leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi and Peer Azfal Qadri are also nominated as accused persons in the FIRs, according to sources.

Routine life returned to cities and towns on Saturday as authorities cleared roads, crossings and interchanges for vehicular traffic following the signing of the agreement with the TLP.

Also, motorists heaved a sigh of relief but expressed anger over government’s strategy to deal with the miscreants.

More than 300 protesters arrested by police under 16MPO (Maintenance of Public Order) during the protests were also released from different jails of the province.

But now the police action has put a question mark on the potency of the so-called agreement, which was already being widely criticised by people and political analysts who came down hard on the government for “surrendering to extremists”.

The subject remained top trend on the social media for three days as people demanded strict action against the protesters. The religious groups also widely used social media to raise their voices, despite authorities’ partially suspending the mobile phone and internet services in different cities.

A police spokeswoman on Saturday said at least 53 policemen were wounded during the three-day protests. “Five of the injured are still receiving medical treatment and the remaining 48 have been discharged,” she said.

In a press statement, Punjab IGP Amjad Javed Saleemi applauded officers and officials for performing duties with full commitment and bravery to maintain the law and order.

“IGP expressed sympathies with 53 injured officers and officials and directed Additional IG Operations Azhar Hameed Khokhar to ensure provision of departmental financial assistance to the wounded officials,” said a press release issued by the central police office.

The police chief was also briefed about the law and order situation. He was informed that all roads across the Punjab province had been cleared and the overall law and order situation was satisfactory.

According to our reporter, at least two cases were registered against the miscreants in Shehzad Town police station in the federal capital.