Late Friday night, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) Chairman Khadim Rizvi was taken into “protective custody” by police from Lahore, which was followed by unrests and clashes by TLP workers. This resulted in a crackdown on TLP activists, with 143 TLP workers arrested. Prominent leaders from TLP and TYLR, Pir Afzal Qadri and Asif Ashraf Jalali, have also reportedly been taken into custody.

As with all news concerning the State’s handling of TLP and its protests, these sudden arrests too were surrounded with misinformation and chaos. The news of Rizvi’s arrest broke out through social media platforms, with reports of protests, clashes and shelling pouring in, creating panic. It was not until the next day that the State cleared up the confusion, informing everyone that the roads were safe to travel and that unruly protestors had been handled. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry also clarified that Rizvi had not been arrested for his activities concerning the Asia Bibi case but had been taken into “protective custody” to “safeguard public life, property and order”. The Minister said that this action had to be taken since TLP was refusing to call off a nationwide protest scheduled for Sunday, and the protest could not be allowed to happen due to TLP protests becoming a threat to public life and safety.

TLP leaders being kept in custody and unable to harm public property and chant death threats is definitely reassuring. However, this is only a small step towards justice for the fiasco that occurred after the Asia Bibi verdict. Being taken into “protective custody” is in no way the same thing as an arrest; an arrest is made against a crime while detention is merely to prevent an act. Rizvi has not been arrested or charged for hate speech and incitement to violence- he has been taken into custody temporarily to thwart the announced protest on the 25th.

While this is not a conclusive victory, it is better to have TLP leaders in protective custody in a guest house than on the streets calling for blood. This swift action by the State needs to be commended for pre-emptively averting the TLP protest, and preventing a breakdown of law situation that we saw last month and in Faizabad. This was the kind of prudence that should have been practiced in the Asia Bibi verdict aftermath, and we hope that this first confrontational step of the State translates into more bold and brave steps in the future.