by Zia ur-Rehman and Salman Masood
January 16, 2015
KARACHI, Pakistan — Clashes between the police and protesters outside the French Consulate in Karachi on Friday left four people, including two journalists, with gunshot wounds as demonstrations erupted across Pakistan against the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and its publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.
The Karachi protest was led by the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s largest religious party. The demonstrators threw stones at riot police officers, who responded with tear gas, water cannons and gunfire.
A photographer for Agence France-Presse, Asif Hassan, was shot in the chest and was “out of danger” after emergency surgery, said Dr. Seemi Jamali, head of the emergency ward at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center in Karachi. The news agency said it was trying to determine whether Mr. Hassan had been specifically targeted.
On Thursday, the Pakistani Parliament passed a resolution condemning the cartoon as hate speech and calling on the international community to “take a decisive step to stop such practice.”
“Freedom of expression should not be misused as a means to attack or hurt public sentiments and religious beliefs,” said the resolution, which was passed with cross-party support.
In Islam, visual depictions of the Prophet Muhammad are widely considered to be forbidden and deeply offensive. Irreverent Western depictions of Muhammad have set off violent protests several times in recent years, and that was the case again in several countries on Friday. In Niger, at least four were reported dead when a protest march turned violent, and many were reported injured when riot policemen clashed with protesters in Algeria, Reuters reported.
The public reaction in Pakistan to the Charlie Hebdo shootings was initially muted, but it started to heat up on Tuesday when a cleric in the northern city of Peshawar led a small crowd that praised the killers, Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, for having “defended the honor of the prophet of Islam.”
On Friday, lawyers boycotted the courts in Peshawar and Multan, instead taking to the streets to protest. Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, founder of the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, addressed a large rally in Lahore.
“It is time for us Muslims to unite,” he said. “Otherwise, the West will continue with such acts.”
The most serious violence occurred in Karachi, the country’s commercial capital, where protesters yelled slogans calling for the expulsion of the French ambassador and the severing of diplomatic ties with France.
In an apparent bid to enter the consulate, protesters pelted police officers with stones. The police responded with baton charges and water cannons, and tried to disperse the crowd by firing gunshots in the air. The police said some protesters wore motorcycle helmets and had guns. “They want to harm the consulate building,” one officer said at the scene of the protest.
Salman Khan, a protest leader, said 15 people had been arrested. “Protesting insults against the prophet is our Islamic and democratic right,” he said.
A few streets from the French Consulate, a group of civil society activists and members of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party held a separate demonstration against terrorism and Islamist militancy to commemorate the one-month anniversary of a Pakistani Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar that killed 150 people, most of them children.
Demonstrators brandished placards that read, “Silence is criminal,” and, “Hey Taliban leave our kids alone.” Similar protests took place in Islamabad and Lahore.
“The people gathered here could be bombed, shot or stoned,” said Sharmila Farooqi, a minister in the Sindh provincial government. “But their courage shows that they are frustrated with militancy and want the elimination of the Taliban.”