A hardline Islamist leader in Pakistan was released on Thursday, a week after his name was removed from a terrorism watch list as part of a deal to end weeks of deadly protest conducted by his followers. Saad Hussain Rizvi, the chief of a Sunni militant group, Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), has been released from jail, according to Hasaan Khawar, a government spokesman.
His lawyer Muhammad Rizwan confirmed the release. ‘By the grace of God, he is now free,’ he said. Two weeks ago, the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan agreed to release over 2,000 detained members of the TLP movement, lifted a ban on the group, and agreed to let it run for elections.
Negotiators have said the TLP would relinquish violence in return and withdraw its demand to expel France’s ambassador over the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad by a French magazine. In mid-October, the TLP took to the streets, igniting weeks of protests and clashes that killed at least seven policemen, injured scores and blocked the country’s busiest highway. Amidst similar violent protests earlier this year, Khan’s government designated the TLP as a terrorist group and arrested Rizvi.
Thousands of supporters of the TLP have gathered to demand the release of a police guard who assassinated a provincial governor in 2011 for calling attention to the need for reforms in blasphemy laws. The party entered politics in 2017 and surprised the political elite by winning more than 2 million votes in the 2018 elections. The next national election is scheduled for 2023, and analysts expect political groups to start preparing for the same early next year.