Pakistan frees leader of party behind anti-France rally

LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan on Thursday released a radical Islamist leader under a deal struck with his party that was behind last month’s deadly anti-France protest over the publications of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

The deal to free Saad Rizvi also included lifting of a government ban on his party, Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan. Last week, Pakistan also freed 2,000 of his supporters, detained during last month’s rally. That protest triggered clashes that killed seven policemen and four demonstrators.

Rizvi had been in custody since April, when he threatened anti-France protests. He was released on Thursday afternoon from a jail in the eastern city of Lahore, according to Hassan Khawar, a government spokesman.

Rizvi took over the party in November 2020, after the sudden death of his father, Khadim Hussein Rizvi.

Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan was outlawed a year ago amid violent rallies over the publications of caricatures of Islam’s prophet in France. The party started demanding the expulsion of France’s envoy from Islamabad in October 2020, after French President Emmanuel Macron defended the publication of the caricatures as freedom of expression.

Macron’s comments came after a young Muslim man beheaded a French school teacher who had shown the caricatures in class. The images were republished by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to mark the opening of the trial over the deadly 2015 attack against the publication of the the original caricatures.

Rizvi’s party gained prominence in Pakistan’s 2018 elections, campaigning on the single issue of defending the country’s blasphemy law, which calls for the death penalty for anyone who insults Islam.

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Associated Press writer Asim Tanveer in Multan, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

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