KARACHI/LAHORE - Religious parities on Friday staged a number of protest demonstrations in parts of country against the execution of Mumtaz Qadri while some hooligans took to attacking media installations in Karachi, Hyderabad and Lahore.

Protesters in Hyderabad surrounded the press club to vent their anger at the national media for its abstaining from covering the funeral of Qadri, a policeman who was hanged for murdering former Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer.

The offices of Aaj News in Lahore and Karachi were attacked by some fanatics, sparking wide condemnation from the journalist bodies, the civil society and government authorities.

The protest demonstrations in different cities disturbed the routine life and massive traffic jams were witnessed at and around the protest venues. The protesters at some places also resorted to damaging vehicles and property.

The main protest in Karachi was organised by Ittehad-e-Ahle Sunnat (an alliance of several parties representing the Barelvi school of thought) at the Numaish Chowrangi and attended by thousands of people including women and children.

The alliance represents the Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (Noorani), Pakistan Sunni Tehreek, Jamaat-e-Ahle Sunnat, Sunni Alliance, Sunni Ittehad Council and some other groups. The protesters were holding placards and portraits of the Qadri and chanting slogans against the government.

Apart from the central protest, smaller protests were also held in Korangi Crossing, Nagan Chowrangi, Nazimabad, Orangi Town, Ittehad Town, Malir and Federal B Area. The protests started after Friday prayers.

Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) held a demonstration outside the Noman Mosque at Lasbela Chowk. Addressing the demonstrators, JI Karachi Chief Engr Hafiz Naeem ur Rehman said that what Mumtaz Qadri did was in accordance with the teaching of Islam and Sunna.

Qadri was sentenced after long court proceedings. His pleas before the higher courts were rejected. The accused himself refused to file mercy petition yet a plea was filed before the president which was not rejected, and finally he was executed on Monday morning.

The JI leader bashed journalists, intellectuals, government officials and judges in his fiery speech. He criticised the media for not giving enough coverage to Qadri’s funeral and the protests held in his favour.

JI leader Younous Barai, Syed Naseer-us-Din Hussaini and others also addressed the protest demonstration.

The participants of Numaish Chowrangi protest marched towards the Tibet Centre on MA Jinnah Road where the leaders of the religious organisations passed multiple resolutions before ending the protest in the evening.

The participants of the rally attacked the Aaj TV office at Guru Mandir which was widely condemned by the journalist bodies as well as government. A DSNG van of the Express News also came under attack during coverage of the protest at Numaish Chowrangi.

According to the SHO Soldier Bazaar, the protesters moving towards Numaish Chowrangi also broke windowpanes of cars parked outside the recorder house. The protesters also set tyres on fire and forced closure of the Electronics Market.

The protester leaders however claimed that the vandals who committed acts of violence were not their own men. Pakistan Sunni Tehreek (PST) claimed that some members of the banned outfits with covered faces had joined the protest who started committing acts of violence, attracting others to join them.

In Hyderabad, four media persons suffered injuries while escaping from a mob that barged into Hyderabad Press Club on Friday. According to eyewitnesses, activists of different religious parties and groups demonstrated outside the press club, laying a virtual siege of the club.

Some of the protestors carrying sticks entered the club premises, thrashed the manager and ransacked the club. Upon seeing the furious attackers, some media persons on the upper floor of the club building jumped down in the adjacent PBC Houses to save their lives. Resultantly, cameraman of 92-News Qasim Khan, reporter of Daily Mehran Niaz Vighio, reporter of Sindh TV Faheem Babbar and APP photographer Farhan Khan were injured.

After ransacking the club, the hooligans set the furniture, laptops and cameras on fire. They also damaged the motorbikes parked outside the club building. The club manager said that police were called repeatedly for help but no response was received on time. Later, a heavy contingent of police reached the spot and encircled the club premises.

The major rally in Lahore was taken out by Pakistan Sunni Tehreek (PST), from Data Darbar to Faisal Chowk. The protestors forced the shopkeepers at Mall Road, Hall Road and other adjacent routes to close down their businesses.

Some mobsters belonging to religious seminaries attacked bureau office of Aaj News and Business Recorder office during the PST rally. They made a failed attempt to enter the Aaj TV office by breaking the gate.

Later, at 5:30pm some 60 supporters of Qadri holding clubs in their hands again tried to break in the media outlet office but failed. The media persons remained stranded inside the building for four hours while police was nowhere to be seen during all this time.

The attacks on media houses in Karach and Lahore and Hyberabad press club were widely condemned by journalist bodies and civil society organisations. They called on the government to provide security to journalists.

Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) expressed complete solidarity with its member channels and termed the attacks an attempt to curb freedom of expression and discourage media from performing its duties. The PBA and Editors for Safety (EFS) demanded immediate action against the attackers and asked the government to provide adequate security to media offices and journalists.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also condemned the attacks by enraged protesters. He said attack on media was condemnable, adding that “we believe in free media”. Information Minister Senator Pervaiz Rashid, Sindh Interior Minister Sohail Siyal, Senator Shahid Syed and Former interior minister Rehman Malik also condemned the attacks on media.

Jamaat-e-Islami, Aalmi Majlis-e-Khatam-e-Nabowat, Jamait Ulma-e-Pakistan, Sunni Ittehad Council and other parties held separate protests demonstration and took out rallies in different areas of Lahore. The activists of JI held a protest demonstration at Mansora while some other religious parties staged demos in front of Lahore Press Club.

The major markets in the City remained closed ahead of protests however shopkeepers opened their businesses in the evening. Overall traffic situation remained normal but authorities kept Metro Bus Service suspended till evening.

JI Secretary General Liaqat Baloch said that by executing Mumtaz Qadri the rulers had tried to please a small secular and anti Islam lobby in the country. He also called upon the Punjab government to immediately withdraw the Women Protection Law for being “repugnant to Islam and in conflict with the constitution.”