Protests have erupted in several cities across Pakistan after police took into custody the leader of a far-right religious party known for holding mass demonstrations over the issue of “blasphemy”.
On Monday evening, several major intercity highways were closed by police as protests broke out in Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi, the eastern city of Lahore, outside the capital Islamabad and in several other areas.
Local media reported clashes between police and protesters in Lahore and elsewhere.
The protests began after Saad Rizvi, leader of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party, was arrested by police in the eastern city of Lahore on Monday, his party said.
“The central leader of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan Hafiz Muhammad Saad has been arrested,” said senior party leader Syed Zaheer ul Hassan Shah in a video message posted on social media.
It was unclear what charges Rizvi was being held on.
Shah alleged that the government had “violated” an agreement signed with the party in February to stave off the threat of further protests over perceived “blasphemy” by French President Emmanuel Macron.
In November, the TLP called off a sit-in protest that had blocked a major highway into the capital Islamabad over the issue of remarks by President Macron that had been considered Islamophobic.
At the time, the government signed a deal with the party wherein it promised to consider expelling the French ambassador, banning all French goods from Pakistan and guaranteeing an amnesty to all TLP protesters arrested during those demonstrations.
In February, the government signed a new agreement with the TLP after the group threatened fresh protests due to perceived inaction on the previous deal.
The new agreement promised to put the question of expelling the French ambassador to Pakistan and other issues before parliament to make a decision before April 20.