Protesters hold rallies for the second day in a row after the arrest of far-right Muslim leader Saad Rizvi.
Islamabad, Pakistan – Protests continued for the second day across Pakistan against the arrest of a far-right Muslim leader who heads a party known for staging mass protests over the issue of alleged “blasphemy”.
Protesters blocked roads in several major Pakistani cities on Tuesday, including the country’s largest city Karachi, the city of Lahore in the east and Rawalpindi.
The scale of the protests had decreased compared to the day before, when they were triggered by arrest Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) chief Saad Rizvi in Lahore on unspecified charges.
Authorities shut down major intercity highways in central Punjab and elsewhere on Monday as protesters took to the streets to protest Rizvi’s arrest.
Clashes between police and protesters were reported in Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad and several other small towns. Police fired tear gas and water cannons in an attempt to disperse the protesters, who retaliated in some locations by throwing stones.
Local media, citing local officials, reported that at least two people were killed on the night of the violence, but Al Jazeera was unable to independently verify the death toll. Injuries to protesters and police were also reported in several towns.
Most of the highways had reopened on Tuesday, although limited road closures continue to affect the capital Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi.
The TLP has organized several large-scale protests on the issue of perceived “blasphemy”, a sensitive subject in Pakistan which can arouse widespread anger and can sometimes lead to violence.
Since 1990, at least 78 people have been murdered in connection with allegations of blasphemy, according to an Al Jazeera tally.
The latest incident took place on March 24, when a religious scholar from the minority Shia community was put to death in the central city of Jhang after being charged with blasphemy.
In November, the TLP called off a sit-in protest that had blocked a major highway in the capital Islamabad over the issue of President Macron’s remarks that had been considered islamophobic.
At the time, the Pakistani government signed an agreement with the party in which it promised to consider expelling the French ambassador, banning all French products from Pakistan and guaranteeing an amnesty for all protesters in the country. TLP arrested during these protests.
In February, after no progress was reported on the previous deal, the government signed an extension with the TLP, promising to present all of the party’s demands to parliament by April 20.
Rizvi’s arrest appears to have taken place to prevent threats of protests if the government refuses to expel the French ambassador before the April 20 deadline.
Saad Rizvi is the son of Muslim leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the founder of TLP, who was known for his fiery speeches on the issue of blasphemy.
Since 2011, the elder Rizvi had toured the country, garnering support from most members of the Sunni Barelvi sect on the issue of “blasphemy”.
Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.