Blasphemous caricatures: 30,000 protesters turn up for largest rally yet against French magazine

Those present at JI's demonstration called for the severing of diplomatic ties with France

Our Correspondent January 25, 2015
Those present at JI's demonstration called for the severing of diplomatic ties with France. PHOTO: IRFAN ALI/EXPRESS

KARACHI: Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of the city on Sunday in what was the country's largest protest yet against the publication of blasphemous caricatures by French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

In a mammoth rally organised by the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), an estimated 30,000 protesters marched down University Road to Hasan Square, shouting slogans calling for the expulsion of the French ambassador and the severing of diplomatic ties with France. The charged-up demonstrators, who included men, women and children, held red, green and blue placards.

"I believe this is the biggest protest yet on the issue, with 25,000 to 30,000 people in attendance," Aziz Bhatti SHO Abbas Kolachi told The Express Tribune. "We have made fool-proof security arrangements accordingly."

As part of these security measures, the thoroughfare leading from Hasan Square to NIPA Chowrangi was blocked for commuters even before noon, although the rally was scheduled to begin at 3pm. Meanwhile, snipers were deployed on top of high-rise buildings around the venue.

At Hasan Square, an improvised stage was set up at the pedestrian bridge adjacent to the Karachi Expo Centre, from where JI chief Sirajul Haq addressed the protesters.

The JI social media team had also set up a camp where around 50 activists were busy live-tweeting the event. "The #JIShaneMustafaMarch hashtag is trending among the three most popular topics in Pakistan," said Sohaib Rashid, a member of the team.

The rally drew support from other political parties, including the Pakistan Peoples Party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl, Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Pakistan, Majlis-e-Wahdat-e-Muslimeen, as well as the Karachi Bar Council, whose representatives joined the JI chief onstage.

"This rally demands that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif immediately call a meeting of all political and religious parties over the publication of these caricatures ," said Haq, speaking to the protesters. "It is time to send a message to France and the rest of the Western world that we stand united against their support of blasphemy on the pretext of freedom of expression."

The proposed all parties' conference, added Haq, would unanimously call for an emergency meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation as well as the United Nations (UN) to make laws in order to protect the sanctity of all prophets and demand an unconditional apology from France.

Haq appealed to the citizens of Karachi and the rest of the country to stand together, in spite of political affiliations and differences, to strengthen the international protest movement against the Western world until France and other European countries apologised for the publication of the blasphemous sketches.

Jamaatud Dawa protests

In a separate protest led by Jamaatud Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed, thousands of demonstrators rallied from Safari Park up to Sharae Quaideen. Saeed, while condemning Charlie Hebdo's depiction of the Holy Propher (pbuh) as 'hate speech' and 'journalistic terrorism', demanded that the UN ban blasphemy.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 26th, 2015.


syed bilal | 9 years ago | Reply

It extraordinary large gathering. Protesters were common karachiites and number would be around at least one million.

concernedpakistani | 9 years ago | Reply

Another stupid protest by the illiterates in our country. I mean I understand doing it once, but this is what like the 20th protest? Don't the people of Pakistan have anything better to do? Maybe if we didnt shut down Karachi every other day then some work could actually happen.

I can't wait for the day that parties like JI/JUI-F dissapear.

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