Tens of thousands of people rallied in different towns and cities of Pakistan on Friday as the seething anger fuelled by the publication of blasphemous cartoons by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo swept across the Muslim world.
The protests in Pakistan came a day after its parliament condemned the cartoons as a “deliberate attempt to incite violence, create discord, [and] widen misunderstandings among civilisations”.
The protest rallies remained largely peaceful except for Karachi, where more than a dozen people were injured during violent clashes between protesters and the police.
The clashes erupted when the police stopped the protesters belonging to the student wing of politico-religious Jamaat-e-Islami from marching towards the French Consulate. Over a dozen people – including AFP photojournalist Asif Hassan and four policemen – were wounded in the scuffle that lasted for more than an hour. Hassan, who received a gunshot wound, was rushed to the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) where medics said he was in a stable condition.
Senior police official Abdul Khaliq Sheikh said the violence began when the protesters were prevented by the police from approaching the French Consulate. “When the police tried to stop them they started firing,” he said, adding that the police responded with tear gas and water cannon to disperse the protesters. The protesters denied the allegation and blamed the police for triggering the clash.
In Islamabad, security was tightened around the Diplomatic Enclave as hundreds of enraged people marched in different neighbourhoods. The administration had placed shipping containers near Murree Road to block access to the high-security zone. In the neighbouring garrison city of Rawalpindi, political parties and religious organisations organised demonstrations. The Jamaat-e-Islami and Muslim Students Organisation staged a rally from Moti Mosque to Fawara Chowk in Raja Bazaar. Participants shouted slogans against Charlie Hebdo and burnt tyres on the road.
Similar protests were staged elsewhere in Punjab, including Lahore, by the JI and Jamaatud Dawa (JuD).
Addressing the JI rally on Multan Road, Ameer Sirajul Haq announced to hold million-man marches in Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi next Friday. He urged Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to call an emergency meeting of Muslim leaders to lodge a protest against the French government. Demonstrations were also reported from across Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. In Muzaffarabad, the capital of AJK, protesters marched from the Prime Minister Secretariat to Civil Secretariat shouting slogans against Charlie Hebdo. AJK Prime Minister Chaudhry Abdul Majeed said such type of ‘freedom of expression’ was a threat to world peace.
Apart from Pakistan, protest rallies were also staged in other Muslim countries, with the largest protests taking place in the capitals of Algeria and Jordan.
In Amman, around 2,500 protesters set off from Al-Husseini mosque under tight security, holding banners that read “insulting the Holy Prophet [PBUH) is global terrorism”.
In Algiers, 2,000-3,000 marchers chanted slogans against the French magazine, though some shouted their support for the Kouachi brothers who carried out the Charlie Hebdo massacre.
Four people were killed and 45 injured in a day of violent protests in Niger’s second city.
Interior Minister Massaoudou Hassoumi said a policeman and three civilians died in Friday’s disturbances in Zinder in which three churches were ransacked and the French cultural centre was burned down.
Thousands of protesters gathered outside mosques after Friday prayers to vent anger at the French weekly. Twenty-two members of the security forces and 23 protesters were hurt in the ensuing clashes, national radio reported, as one Catholic and two Protestant churches were attacked.
Around 100 protesters rallied in Istanbul in response to a call by a group calling itself the Fraternal Platform of the Prophet (PBUH)’s Companions, with some holding pictures of the Kouachis.
A French flag was also set on fire outside the embassy in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, where 1,000 protesters rallied.
In Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al Aqsa mosque compound, hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated peacefully.
In Khartoum, hundreds poured out of the Grand Mosque and marched across the adjacent square, chanting “Expel the French ambassador.”
A protest in Tehran was cancelled, with no official reason given, as senior Iranian cleric Ayatollah Ali Movahedi Kermani told worshippers the cartoon’s publication amounted to ‘savagery’.
Muslim governments also joined the chorus of condemnation of the cartoon.
Qatar branded as ‘offensive’ the drawing, which was reprinted by several European papers in a show of solidarity with the victims of last week’s attack.
“These disgraceful actions are in the interest of nobody and will only fuel hatred and anger,” the foreign ministry warned.
Bahrain’s foreign ministry echoed that, saying publication of such cartoons “will create fertile ground for the spread of hatred and terrorism.” Charlie Hebdo’s latest cartoon is ‘disgraceful’ and no more than attempt to provoke Muslims and mock their beliefs, it said.
Saudi Arabia’s top religious body, the Council of Senior Ulema, also criticised the new cartoons that it said “have nothing to do with the freedom of creativity or thought.”
Published in The Express Tribune, January 17th, 2015.