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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Pakistan detains hardline cleric behind blasphemy protests

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry tweeted news of the arrest on Friday.

Pakistani police late Friday detained a hardline cleric whose party recently paralysed the country with violent protests over the acquittal of a Christian woman accused of blasphemy.

Firebrand cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, leader of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party, was detained before a scheduled rally on Saturday in Islamabad, the country's information minister Fawad Chaudhry tweeted.

"Khadim Hussain Rizvi has been taken into protective custody by police and shifted to a guesthouse," Mr Chaudhry tweeted, adding that the move was not linked to the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was on death row for eight years before the Supreme Court overturned her blasphemy conviction last month.

"It's to safeguard public life, property and order and has to do nothing with Asia Bibi case," Chaudhry tweeted.

"Law shall take its course and it cannot be left to individuals," he added.

The court's decision sparked furious demonstrations led by the hardline TLP, with protesters calling for Bibi's execution as they blocked major roads, leaving large swathes of the country paralysed.

In response, the government made a deal with the group to impose a travel ban on Bibi, who was released from jail earlier this month as she awaits the outcome of a final review of her case.

The TLP has vowed to return to the streets if she is allowed to leave the country.

In a video message released on Friday, another TLP leader Pir Afzal Qadri called for fresh protests, saying police had arrested dozens of party workers in the port city of Karachi and in parts of central Punjab province including Lahore.

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Blasphemy is an inflammatory issue in Pakistan, where even unproven allegations of insulting Islam and Prophet Mohammed can lead to lynchings and murders.

Bibi's conviction stemmed from a 2009 incident when she was asked to fetch water while out working in the fields.

Muslim women labourers objected to her touching the water bowl as a non-Muslim, and a fight reportedly erupted.

A local imam then claimed Bibi insulted the Prophet Mohammed.

Bibi has consistently denied the charges, and her prosecution rallied international rights groups, politicians and religious figures.