Anti-blasphemy protests in Pakistan spark fears among Christians and other minorities

(Reuters/Caren Firouz)Supporters of the Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan Islamist political party listen to their leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi (not pictured) as he speaks with the media, beside a sack full of shotgun and teargas shell casings used on them by police, at their protest site at Faizabad junction in Islamabad, Pakistan November 27, 2017.

Christians and other minority groups in Pakistan have been gripped with fear following the anti-blasphemy protests that have brought the country to a standstill over the weekend.

The demonstrations began two weeks ago after Islamic cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi called for protests to demand the resignation of Pakistan's law minister over the change in the electoral oath that omitted declaring Muhammad as the last of the prophets.

Zahid Hamid issued an apology, saying the omission was a clerical error that has since been corrected. However, the protesters persisted and camped out at Islamabad's Faizabad Interchange.

According to Pakistan Christian Post, at least six people were killed and over 250 were wounded after law enforcement agencies carried out a court order issued on Nov. 25 to disperse the protesters.

Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan, the Islamist political party at the heart of the protests, had alleged that the riot police was dominated by Christians and other religious minorities.

"It looks like non-Muslims were conducting the operation. There were very few Muslims. When our respectable leader was asking them not to attack the movement for the finality of the Prophethood [that Muslims must declare they believe Muhammad is the final prophet], very few of them gave back a positive gesture," said Tehreek-e-Labaik spokesman Muhammad Afzal Qadri.

"From this, we inferred that non-Muslims had been deployed [to deal with the protestors]. You know that Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis are part of the police, paramilitary force and law enforcement agencies," he added.

World Watch Monitor reported that media regulatory bodies suspended transmission of news channels and social media websites — including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter — to prevent coverage of the riots.

Following Hamid's resignation, members of the party said they were dispersing peacefully under an agreement with the government. As part of the deal, the Islamists had agreed not to issue a fatwa against Hamid, which would have endangered the life of the law minister.

Although the protests have quelled, minority groups in the country said that they still do not feel safe.

Leighton Medley from the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) told Premier that he had to flee with his wife on Sunday while on a missionary trip to the country.

"There were many ...trucks that were parked up there ...and I was the only Westerner and I started to get quite a few funny looks - being the only Western presence there. There have been reports of kidnapping in the past so I had to relocate," he said.

BPCA Chairman Wilson Chowdhry said that he is now considering whether to continue with the rest of the charity's outreach program in Pakistan. He said that the charity will have no option but to discontinue the program if the level of rioting escalates or remains the same.

Medley, however, said that he is already planning another trip back to Pakistan once he once he leaves back to the U.K.

According to Premier, security forces have already started removing the shipping containers that were placed around the sit-in in a bid to prevent the protest from spreading deeper into the city.

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