The Tahaffuz Namoos-i-Risalat Mahaz (TNRM), a Barelvi Sunni pressure group, staged a rally in the city on Wednesday, but stopped short of their threat to block The Mall after talks with the police in the morning.
The TNRM, or the Front for the Protection of the Honour of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him), had threatened to stage a sit-in on The Mall in defiance of a ban on public assembly at the thoroughfare, in order to protest against perceived injustices in their treatment by the police in disputes with other sects.
TNRM representatives had warned that the sit-in could last well into the night, or as long as their demands were not met. In the end, the rally did not reach The Mall. The participants in the rally were not told of talks earlier in the day between the police and the Front.
TNRM leaders met with Inspector General Habibur Rehman in the morning and were urged to cancel the rally, said a source in the group. He said the IG assured them that all their complaints would be addressed. These included the non-provision of security to Ahle Sunnat leaders, the “occupation” of Barelvi mosques by non-Barelvis, the registration of “fake” FIRs against their leaders, and the release of their opponents despite the registration of cases against them.
The source said that the TNRM refused to cancel the rally since their supporters had been primed for the event, but agreed not to come on to The Mall.
They demanded that Capital City Police Officer Ahmed Raza Tahir make an appearance at the protest to assure their supporters that their grievances would be addressed. The IG agreed to their demand, said the source.
TNRM activists gathered in front of the Lahore Press Club from where they marched on Davis Road towards The Mall, chanting slogans denouncing the Punjab government and the Lahore Police along the way.
They stopped in front of Muslim League House, where Muhammad Ali Karimi, Maulana Naeem Hazarvi, Muhammad Masood Saifi, Muhammad Atharul Qadri and Mujahid Abdul Rasool, among others, gave speeches.
The few hundred participants seemed determined to move to The Mall for the planned sit-in, but their leaders held them back and waited for the city’s police chief to appear. They waited more than half an hour at Davis Road, when Senior Superintendent of Police (Operations) Sarfaraz Falki turned up to tell them that the CCPO would not be coming and he would take his place. The TNRM leaders insisted on waiting for the CCPO, but when their supporters began leaving in trickles, they agreed to let the SSP speak.
Falki told the protesters, on behalf of the Punjab government and the police, that their complaints would be addressed “in accordance with the law”. He asked them to disperse so normal traffic could resume. He also spilled the beans to the crowd about the morning meeting between the TNRM representatives and the police, which the protesters had been unaware of.
Asked why the TNRM had not cancelled the rally when they had already received the assurances from the police in the morning, TNRM Secretary General Muhammad Ali Naqshbandi said that having called a rally, they had not wanted to cancel it. He said the discussions between the police and the TNRM leaders had not been made known to their supporters to “maintain the momentum of the rally”.
He said that the group had set a March 18 deadline for the cancellation of all FIRs against Sunni Barelvi leaders. He said that all Sunni mosques “taken over by other sects” must be returned to them.
The speakers at the rally said there would be violence if their demands were not met. Naeem Hazarvi said they would “fight and kill” Ahle Hadith if they continued to criticise them.
The protesters passed various resolutions, demanding that the United Nations draw up laws to punish blasphemy, that the police arrest those behind the attack on Jamia Naeemia, that the government shut down banned organisations working under new names, and that it remove Ahmadis from important public posts.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 1st, 2012.
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