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Islamabad court asks religious activists to end protest

Pakistani activists of a religious group shout slogans during a week long protest in Islamabad on Tuesday. (AFP)
ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court on Thursday advised religious parties to end their sit-in protest at the busy Faizabad crossing in Pakistan’s capital.
Protesters have blocked a main entrance into Islamabad city for the past week and demanded the resignation of the country’s Law Minister Zahid Hamid for allegedly pushing a constitutional amendment to make changes in the avowal of finality of Prophet-hood for parliamentarians.
The Pakistani government has already retracted the controversial amendment, calling it a clerical mistake. It has rejected the protesters’ demands to sack the law minister. Authorities say the law minister had no role in the amendment as it was finalized by the parliamentary panel with representation from all political parties.
Islamabad High Court’s Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui said that normal life in the capital has been badly disrupted by the protest.
The court requested an end to the sit-in to ease public misery and adjourned the next hearing until Nov. 29.
Anayatul Haq, a member of the protesting Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party, told Arab News: “The court has not asked us to end the sit-in immediately. The court advised us to end this before the next hearing so we are mulling on this.”
The far-right activists are being led by Khadim Hussain Rizvi, a firebrand Pakistani cleric who heads the TLP.
The Pakistani government has been criticized for not dealing effectively with the protest.
Pakistan’s Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said that he suspected some of the protesters were carrying weapons and expressed concern that a standoff might turn violent.
He alleged that some protesters were inciting violence. “People are demanding action against the protesters as problems are mounting… action can have a cost. We request the protesters not to test our patience,” Iqbal said, warning that “this cannot go on forever in the capital.”
Citizens have been forced to take alternative routes to work, schools and other places of business, leading to traffic jams and delays in travel. Commuters to Islamabad from the suburbs and neighboring Rawalpindi city have endured long journeys, particularly during peak hour.
Late last week, the National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) took suo moto notice (where a body acts on its own initiative) of the forced shut-down of the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi by religious protesters.
The commission has summoned the relevant authorities on Nov. 22.
“As this constitutes a human rights violation in many ways, the commission took suo-moto notice after having observed the grave situation,” NCHR Chairman Justice (R) Ali Nawaz Chohan told Arab News.