The organization advocated for the execution of Asia Bibi and celebrated the beheading of French teacher Samuel Paty.
by Daniela Bovolenta
On November 7, 2021, the government of Pakistan capitulated to the protests of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, a radical Islamic fundamentalist political party that had been banned on April 14. The ban was lifted, and the government promised to release from prison the party’s leader, Saad Hussain Rizvi.
Ironically, the decision came on the third anniversary of the release from jail of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who had been sentenced to death by hanging for blasphemy but had been acquitted by the Supreme Court, overturning the lower courts’ verdicts. Upon her release on November 7, 2018, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan gained international notoriety by organizing anti-Bibi riots throughout the country, insisting she should be executed.
In fact, the riots had started before, when the Supreme Court’s decision had been announced on October 8, 2018. Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan had also stated that the three Supreme Court judges who had acquitted Bibi were themselves guilty of blasphemy and should be killed. The party used its favorite tactic of blocking the main Pakistani highways, creating disruption and chaos in the national transportation system. The block continued until the government signed an agreement with Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, and agreed that it will prevent Bibi, although she had been acquitted, from leaving the country. Only in 2019, after a new decision by the Supreme Court, Bibi was allowed to move to Canada, which generated new Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan riots.
Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan is not a small group. In the 2018 general elections, it gathered more than two million votes, or 4.2%, although this was not enough to gain any seat. The party was founded in 2015 by Khadim Hussain Rizvi, who died in 2020 and was the father of the current leader Saad Hussain Rizvi. Most of its members come from the large Sufi-oriented but conservative Barelvi movement.
Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan is a single-issue party. It mobilized against attempts, prompted by international pressures, to eliminate or soften Pakistani laws punishing blasphemy with the death penalty. It was involved in riots against the religious minority of the Ahmadis, and successfully campaigned in 2018 to have the world-famous economist Atif Mian, a professor at Princeton University, removed from the Prime Minister of Pakistan’s Economic Advisory Council because of his Ahmadi faith.
After the Asia Bibi case, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan mobilized in favor of Abdoullakh Abouyedovich Anzorov, the Chechen terrorist who beheaded the French schoolteacher Samuel Paty on October 16, 2020, after Paty had shown his students the controversial Charlie Hebdo cartoons of Prophet Muhammad during a classroom discussion on the limits of freedom of expression. Anzorov was then killed in a shooting with the French police.
Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan called for the public recognition of Anzorov as a martyr, and asked Pakistan to close the French Embassy in Islamabad and expel the French Ambassador. Pro-Anzorov riots started in October 2020 and continued until this month, with Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan activists marching towards the capital Islamabad and blocking the highways.
The agreement of November 7 confirms that the government in Pakistan prefers to compromise with violent, radical parties supporting the persecution of Christians, Ahmadis, and other religious minorities, rather than crack down on violence and guarantee the security of the highways.