Amid an unspoken blanket media ban on Mumtaz Qadri, social media has taken the lead in reporting protests as tens of thousands of supporters of the convicted killer gathered for his funeral on Tuesday.
Thousands of policemen were deployed at main junctions and sensitive buildings in Islamabad and the nearby garrison city of Rawalpindi, officials said, including along the route set to be taken by Qadri’s funeral procession.
Supporters cheered and threw flowers at the casket of the bodyguard who turned his gun on late Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer in 2011, Reuters reported. Police blocked off roads to Liaquat Bagh park in Rawalpindi but thousands arrived on foot.
In one video, supporters of Qadri are seen harassing media men in Islamabad. A group of stick-wielding men are seen chasing a cameraman down before snatching his equipment and smashing it. The same crowd is also seen damaging a media van parked in the area, while hurling abuses at media channels.
Twitter trends in Pakistan also showed a grim picture with five out of 10 trends either praising Qadri or protesting against the government’s decision to hang him. With thousands in support of the convicted killer, the government has not taken any direct action to arrest any of the protesters.
To make matters worse, Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid was cornered by Qadri supporters at Karachi airport Monday night. In a video posted on social media, the information minister was seen on the receiving end of vitriol by Qadri’s supporters. The minister had to be escorted by security personnel when one of the supporters threw a shoe at his head.
The government’s vague stance on Qadri-related media coverage has frustrated many on social media, with many believing Pakistan’s media regulatory body (Pemra) has urged media channels to limit coverage of the protests due to public support for the National Action Plan.
The tweet by Pemra was the only ‘official’ warning and guideline floated by their official Twitter account. The move was heavily criticised by some on social media:
However, with the blanket ban in place, the media were left in the lurch as enraged protesters damaged DSNG vans and beat up some media personnel while raising slogans against the press.
Many have also highlighted how the PML-N-led government is still playing it safe when it comes to Qadri’s supporters despite taking the arguably tough decision to go ahead with the execution.
Qadri, a police bodyguard to Taseer, shot the liberal Punjab governor 28 times at an Islamabad market in 2011. He said he was angry at the politician’s calls to reform the blasphemy law.
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in the country, and Qadri was hailed as a hero by many conservatives eager to drown out calls to soften the legislation.
Critics say the law — which carries the death penalty — is largely misused, with hundreds languishing in jails under false charges, AFP reported.
Analyst Hasan Askari has said that Islamabad, in deciding to proceed with the execution, had weighed the danger of mass violence against the need to “wash away the suspicion” of sympathy for militancy.
Thousands protested in cities across Pakistan on Monday after authorities announced the hanging had taken place early that morning.
But with security stepped up at flashpoints across the country of some 200 million, most dispersed peacefully.
“Police have been heavily deployed across the capital today,” a police official in Islamabad told AFP.
“We have manned all the main junctions close to the procession route and sensitive buildings,” he said, adding that up to 3,000 officers were on the streets.
All schools and universities remained closed for the day after shutting early Monday, AFP reported.
A police official in Rawalpindi said similar numbers were deployed there, including hundreds brought in from other districts as well as paramilitary Rangers forces
Liaquat Bagh, the park in Rawalpindi where the funeral ceremony will be held, is tinged with political significance: it is where Pakistani prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated in 1951, and the site of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in 2007.
“He lives! Qadri lives!” chanted supporters who surrounded the coffin and threw flowers. “From your blood, the revolution will come!”