ISLAMABAD: Some 9,400 firebrand speakers and clerics have been arrested on charges of fanning the flames of sectarian hate as the government stepped up efforts to curb strife as part of the National Action Plan (NAP).
“All of them were found involved in fuelling sectarianism in the name of religion,” an official tasked with monitoring the progress of the action plan told The Express Tribune.
Law enforcement agencies have registered 9,689 cases against ‘hate preachers’ under the law that has banned hate speeches and misuse of loudspeakers.
Police have also arrested 9,354 religious leaders and clerics under the Anti-Terrorism Act and the Pakistan Penal Code.
Moreover, the home departments of all the provinces have barred 1,345 firebrand speakers belonging to different schools of thought from making speeches on Muharram 8, 9 and 10.
Around 6,504 cases against religious leaders have been registered in Punjab, 1,647 in Sindh, 1,286 in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and 47 in Balochistan, reveals NAP’s progress report.
Meanwhile, 94 cases have been registered in Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT), 91 in Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) and 20 in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B).
Law enforcers have arrested 6,943 clerics in Punjab, 1,383 in K-P, 775 in Sindh, 38 in Balochistan, 122 in ICT, 53 in AJK and 40 in G-B.
Seventy-one shops or other sites involved in spreading hate literature in Punjab, Balochistan, AJK and G-B were also sealed.
Law enforcement personnel have also confiscated 2,129 materials from mosques and seminaries that were being used to incite hardliners to attack minority groups.
“We are serious about getting rid of all elements breeding extremism in our society,” said Religious Affairs Minister Sardar Muhammad Yousuf.
Reacting to the ongoing crackdown, clerics have said the LEAs should not measure all religious teachers or scholars with the same yardstick.
Thousands of clerics have been imprisoned or are facing trial, said Abdul Quddus, spokesman for the Wifaqul Madaris (education board for seminaries). “All religious teachers are not terrorists.”
He urged the government to “consider us true representatives of this poor society”. He also claimed: “We, for sure, are the true guardians of this state.”
Yousaf said representatives of all schools of thought were cooperating with the government. “We believe we can win the war against extremism only if the clerics stand by us. And yes, religious leaders of all sects are supporting us.”
Senior Jamaat-e-Islami leader Prof Muhammad Ibrahim Khan also criticised the government for the crackdown. “Ulema’s arrest is not the solution to curbing extremism. Such arrests under NAP are meaningless because the action plan itself has several loopholes.” The detained religious teachers should be provided the right to defend themselves, he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 23rd, 2015.