Pakistan blocked access to all social media for a brief time period Friday, after days of anti-French protests across the country by radical Islamists opposing a cartoon they consider blasphemous.
The country’s interior ministry demanded multiple media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, among others, be banned for four hours, according to Khurram Mehran, a spokesperson for Pakistan’s media regulatory agency.
While the social media platforms were temporarily banned, police had also been preparing to clear a large group of demonstrators from the eastern city of Lahore, just hours after the government said Saad Rizvi, the now-detained leader of the outlawed Islamist political party who has been leading the protests, called for his followers to stand down.
The government has since released a note that they claim was handwritten by Rizvi in an attempt to ease tensions after his Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan party began violent protests in which two police officers were killed and 580 were injured. As a result, France urged its citizens to leave the country.
Three demonstrators also died while clashing with security agencies. The government has since imposed a ban upon the political party.
A photo of Rizvi’s alleged statement was released by an advisor to the prime minister on Twitter, but neither Rizvi nor any the leaders in his party have confirmed the legitimacy of the note. Some of his followers claim they heard or saw the words come from Rizvi before stopping, and the Lahore protest continued after Friday prayers.
On Thursday, the French embassy in Pakistan advised all French citizens and companies to temporarily leave Pakistan due to the violence that occurred after Rizvi’s arrest.
Violent protests have been ongoing since Monday, damaging both public and private property and disrupting the desperately needed supply of oxygen to hospitals. Some of those affected included COVID-19 patients, who were on oxygen support.
The statement, allegedly written by Rizvi, asks his supporters to peacefully disband for the good of the country and to end their main sit-in protest that began Monday, when the police arrested the Rizvi for threatening protests if the government did not expel the French ambassador before April 20.
Rizvi’s arrest sparked multiple sit-ins across the country, many of which have disrupted traffic. While security forces have managed to clear out most of the rallies, thousands of Rizvi’s followers continue to assemble in Lahore, vowing to die in order to protect the honor of the Prophet Muhammad.
Rizvi became the leader of the outlawed Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan party in November following the sudden death of his father, Khadim Hussein Rizvi.