Imran, Rasheed among
150 booked for ‘blasphemy’
over sloganeering and
protest in Masjid-e-Nabvi

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ISLAMABAD: Hours after Hamza Shehbaz took over as chief minister of Punjab on Saturday, the police booked Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan, party’s senior vice president Fawad Chaudhry and Awami Muslim League (AML) president Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad, among 150 people, on blasphemy charges over sloganeering against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his delegation in Medina.

Protest by Pakistani nationals in Masjid-e-Nabi in Madina Munawwarah

The first information report (FIR), lodged after midnight in Medina Town police station in Faisalabad, the home town of Minister for Interior Rana Sanaullah Khan, nominated some “100 to 150” for purportedly violating the sanctity of Masjid al-Nabawi, hurting the sentiments of Muslims around the globe, insulting Islamic and violating its code of conduct at one of the holiest places in the religion, and hurling abuses and chanting slogans of thieves and traitors.

Protest by Pakistani nationals in Masjid-e-Nabi in Madina Munawwarah

Following the filing of the complaint, Sanaullah vowed to arrest Khan in the case.

Calling the former prime minister a fitna (mischief), Sanaullah, in a statement, said those who “planned” the sloganeering “will be taken to task”.

“Imran Khan will definitely be arrested,” he added.

The complaint comes days after hundreds of protesters loudly chanted slogans against Sharif and members of his delegation in the courtyard of the mosque.

Demonstrations are illegal in Saudi Arabia but videos emerging on social media platforms showed the crowd around the delegation, shouting “chor, chor (thief)” on Thursday.

In a separate video, Minister for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb blamed the former prime minister, who has since distanced himself from the episode, for the protest. “I will not name this person on this holy land because I do not want to use this land for politics. But they have destroyed the (Pakistani) society,” the minister had claimed.

Following the incident, police in Medina arrested at least five Pakistan nationals for “abusing and insulting” Aurangzeb and Minister for Narcotics Control Shahzain Bugti.

The director of information at the Saudia Arabia embassy in Islamabad, who confirmed the arrests, said the individuals were arrested after they “violated” the rules of the mosque.

The FIR sparked nationwide condemnation, with rights activists, journalists and politicians from across the aisle lamenting the charges as “absurd” and “deplorable”.

The “FIR […] is beyond ridiculous”, tweeted Reema Omer, a lawyer and rights activist. “295-A is an oppressive law. Pakistan’s context makes its use even more problematic,” Omer said, referring to the clause of the constitution that mandates the death penalty for any “imputation, insinuation or innuendo” against Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.).

“Rana Sanaullah in action. He’s playing with the FIR. He will pay the price very soon,” warned Hassaan Niazi, another activist.

Anchor Moeed Pirzada recalled Khan “is the first leader of the whole Muslim world that has raised the voice for “Namoos-e-Risalat” on the global stage [and] has successfully persuaded United Nations to declare March 15, Day to combat Islamophobia.”

“Who are the idiots who have registered this stupid FIR?”

Former Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari said she wasn’t surprised. “Clearly Crime Minister [and] his cabal of crooks [sic] brought in by US regime change conspiracy getting desperate [because] they have no legitimacy amongst [the] nation,” she said.

Sheikh Rasheed’s nephew arrested

Meanwhile, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) arrested Sheikh Rashid Shafique, PTI MP and Ahmed’s nephew, from the Islamabad International Airport on his arrival from Saudi Arabia in the wee hours of Sunday.

Apparently, the arrest was made in connection with the incident.

People familiar with the episode said that Shafique travelled to Islamabad through a private airline.

Ahmed, who condemned the arrest, confirmed his nephew’s detention, saying that he had just landed in Pakistan after performing the pilgrimage when he was arrested.

“None of us were in Saudi Arabia, but cases are being registered [against us]. Residences are being raided after the registration of the cases,” Ahmad said.Geo News reported that Shafique has been shifted to an FIA cell.