ISLAMABAD - The protest sit-in by supporters of Mumtaz Qadri outside the parliament ended Wednesday after the government assured them that there won’t be any changes in the country’s blasphemy laws.
The protest, which had crippled part of the capital, ended after negotiations between government representatives and the protest leaders succeeded.
Hundreds of protesters, visibly fatigued and tired, dispersed peacefully into the night, making victory signs. But the government also claimed success own its part, with officials saying that a violent standoff was averted.
The protesters’ leaders announced ending the protest from the stage of D-Chowk, in the Red Zone of the capital, as they hoped that the government would keep its promise of not amending the blasphemy laws – one of their major demands.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan also said that there was no proposal under consideration of the government to amend the blasphemy laws.
The religious leaders asked their followers in the evening – reduced to hundreds in number by then - to disperse peacefully.
Sarwat Ijaz Qadri in his farewell address to the protesters praised the government for its commitment that it will not amend the existing blasphemy laws in the country. He vowed to continue his peaceful struggle for the imposition of Islamic law in the country.
According to an unsigned seven-point agreement circulated to the media by the protesters, the government has given verbal assurance to the clerics on seven points so as to persuade them to end the crisis.
The assurances came during the final round of talks, held at Punjab House here, which were attended by Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and State Minister for Religious Affairs Peer Ameenul Hasnaat.
According to the sources, Sarwat Qadri, Dr Asif Asharaf Jalali, Afzal Qadri and others represented the protesters while Rafiq Perdaisi, a businessman from Karachi and Shah Ahmad Noorani, a well-known religious figure played the role of mediators.
Perdaisi is in construction business and reportedly a close aide of Ishaq Dar and also has connections with the religious leaders, particularly those from Karachi.
According to protesters, the government assured them that no amendment is under consideration in section 295-C of the PPC, ‘peaceful’ protesters would be freed, no person involved in blasphemy will be spared, the fourth schedule list will be evaluated and the names of innocent will be excluded, options will be explored to withdraw criminal cases against the ‘Ulema’, Pemra will entertain ulema’s proofs for banning vulgar programmes on TV channels and the recommendations would be forwarded to the religious affairs ministry for the purpose of imposition of nizam-e-Mustafa in the country.
Immediately after the announcement of ending of the protest sit-in, Interior Minister Ch Nisar Ali addressing a press conference at the Punjab House denied that the government made any written agreement with the leaders of religious groups.
“We have only chalked out procedure (in consultation) with them how much safe exit they could be given,” he reiterated his earlier stance.
However during the question answer session, his announcement about some decisions of the government regarding the post sit-in scenario lend some credence to claims to the protest leaders that government has given some verbal commitments to them and their claim of seven-point agreement is not baseless.
“No consideration was under proposal to amend the 295-C (blasphemy law),” the minister said, endorsing a key point of the seven points of unwritten agreement.
He said that the government had been reviewing the Fourth Schedule List for the last three months and the names of innocent persons would be excluded from it.
It has been decided that action would be taken against all those who took the law into their hands and damaged the public property; the case registered against leaders of protesters would not be withdrawn.
“Others who were picked randomly would be released one by one, as 1,070 suspects were arrested from Rawalpindi and Islamabad during this protest sit-in.”
Nisar claimed that the protesters became ready to end the sit-in Wednesday evening minutes before the government was to start a ‘soft operation’ to remove them from the protest venue.
He announced that government had decided to ban the use of D-Chowk as protest venue as well as every kind of protests and processions in the Red Zone of the capital.
“Some construction work would be done in the D-Chowk area with the approval of the parliament to block the (future) protesters and to facilitate the police in dealing with them.”
The government on Monday registered FIRs against Sarwat Qadri, Khadim Hussain, Afzal Qadri, Dr Ashraf and others. The cases were registered at the I-9, Secretariat and Kohsar police stations.
Charges against them include violating the Loud Speaker Act, vandalising public property, instigating hate against the government and violating section 144 at the Red Zone.
The protesters began their sit-in inside the Red Zone, Islamabad on the Chehlum of Mumtaz Qadri on Sunday. They had lit up the containers, a CDA vehicle and two Metro Bus Stations in Islamabad during their protest.
They presented 10 demands to the government, which included official recognition of Qadri as a ‘martyr’, maintenance of the blasphemy law in the existing form and execution of everyone under custody after being indicted for blasphemy, including Asia Bibi.
Mobile phone services remained blocked for a fourth day Wednesday due to the sit-in. Metro buses remained off the track in the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi for the fourth consecutive day for security reasons which added to the misery of those commuting between the twin cities.