Pakistan’s government said it was pressing terrorism and sedition charges against leaders of a hardline Islamist group that staged recent protests across the country. The leader of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) party, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, and several senior figures were detained last month after they shut down major cities in protest at the acquittal of a Christian woman who had spent eight years on death row on blasphemy charges. One of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik co-founders called for the killing of the Supreme Court judges who acquitted Asia Bibi, as well as the overthrow of the government and the powerful officials. Pakistani Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said Khadim Hussain Rizvi had been “charged under sections of sedition and terrorism” in a police station in the eastern city of Lahore. Three other senior Tehreek-e-Labbaik figures are facing the same charges. “Today we have decided to take legal action against the Tehreek-e-Labbaik leadership,” Chaudhry told a press conference Saturday. “All those who were directly involved in destroying property, who misbehaved with women, who set fire to buses, are being charged under laws of terrorism at different police stations.” The move represents a hardening of the authorities’ stance towards the group, which in late 2017 paralysed the capital Islamabad for several weeks and clashed with the police in deadly protests. In 2017 and last month Tehreek-e-Labbaik members called off protests after negotiating with the military and reaching a deal with the government, which made many concessions to appease the group. When Khadim Hussain Rizvi was finally detained, authorities said he was not arrested, but merely put in “protective custody”. Chaudhry said more than 3,000 Tehreek-e-Labbaik members were taken into protective custody in the wake of the protests. The Tehreek-e-Labbaik, whose main focus is protecting Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws, was founded out of a movement supporting a bodyguard who assassinated Punjab provincial governor Salman Taseer for advocating for Bibi in 2011. Blasphemy is a deeply emotive issue in Pakistan’s staunchly religious society, and officials have been unnerved by how much support Rizvi’s TLP has garnered across the country in the two years since the group entered mainstream politics. Information Minister Chaudhry said Khalim Hussain Rizvi’s deputy, Pir Afzal Qadri, was also charged over terrorism and sedition, along with senior Tehreek-e-Labbaik leaders Inyatul Haq Shah and Hafiz Farooq ul Hassan. “Sedition has a sentence of life imprisonment, they can face life imprisonment. All the charges will be submitted before courts,” Chaudhry said. Published in Daily Times, December 3rd 2018.