All political parties thanked for support in dealing with violent protests

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Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, during a press talk in Lahore on Monday, said that all segments of the society — including those belonging to religious circles — had condemned the inciteful speeches and violence during recent protests held in reaction to the Supreme Court’s acquittal of Asia Bibi.

He thanked the PML-N, PPP and other opposition parties for their “maturity” and their cooperation with the government on the matter.

“[The opposition parties] told the world that Pakistan is united,” the minister said.

He assured that action would be taken against those who destroyed public and private property during the three-day long protests.

He condemned elements who were “using religion for politics” and said that the Centre had ordered all provincial governments to submit details of the property damages incurred during the protests by tonight.

“The model of our government is [based on] the state of Madina,” said the information minister. “We have to give minorities, as well as other citizens, their constitutional rights.”

He referred to a video showing protesters looting a child selling bananas on a push cart which had gone viral on social media, and questioned the moral standing of the demonstrators.

“The way they (protesters) pulled rickshaw drivers out [of their vehicles] and set fire to their rickshaws, mistreated women by dragging them out of their cars and setting the cars alight [shows] that they don’t have any moral values,” he said. “They wear the garb of religion, but they have no connection to religion.”

He vowed that the government would compensate every citizen who suffered losses due to the protests.

In response to a question, the information minister said that the government did not support censorship.

However, he expressed hope that social media channels would cooperate with the government to curb online hate speech and religious hatred.

Chaudhry said that while the government had a relationship with Facebook — that had taken actions against “hundreds of accounts” for spreading hate speech — there was no agreement with Twitter to monitor accounts that promote religious hatred.

The information minister further said that the police had arrested several people who were involved in rioting.

Chaudhry dismissed the criticism over the government’s deal with the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), saying that the government only had two options: to end protests through negotiations or by using force.

“If we had used force, there would have been bloodshed,” he said, adding that the negotiating delegation should be “given credit” for arriving at a peaceful agreement. However, he said, the state will “have to look for a solution” to such occurrences.

“The state cannot allow few thousand people to get up and shut down cities whenever they want,” he asserted.

Last week, the top court had set aside Asia Bibi’s death sentence, declared her innocent and ordered her immediate release from prison, where she had been locked up for nearly nine years on blasphemy charges.

The verdict was followed by protests and sit-ins across the country by religio-political parties — most prominently the TLP — that continued for three days and disrupted everyday life and business activities.

The inciteful language used by protest leaders was condemned by Prime Minister Imran Khan as well as ministers, who vowed that the writ of the state would be upheld.

Late on Friday, the government reached an agreement with TLP, in which it said that the state would “initiate legal process” to place Asia Bibi’s name on the Exit Control List. The government also assured the TLP that it would not contest the review petition filed against the acquittal. In turn, the TLP offered an apology if it “hurt the sentiments or inconvenienced anyone without reason”

Visit to China ‘as successful as Saudi trip’

The information minister said that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to China had been “as successful as that to Saudi Arabia”.

He said that further details of the trip would be disclosed by the ministers of finance and planning upon the conclusion of the official visit.

He disclosed that it had been agreed that trade with China would be conducted in the Yuan instead of the US Dollar.

The PM is in China on a four-day visit to review the entire range of bilateral relations and to participate in the First China International Import Expo in Shanghai.