France has told its citizens in Pakistan to leave “due to serious threats”. There are about 4,000 French nationals living in Pakistan and now the country is calling on those individuals to leave temporarily amid violent protests led by an anti-French far-right group. In an email sent to French citizens, the embassy called on them to leave the country as soon as possible.
The email read: “Due to the serious threats to French interests in Pakistan, French nationals and French companies are advised to temporarily leave the country.
“The departures will be carried out by existing commercial airlines.”
The advice came amid fears for the security of these individuals amid ongoing violent anti-French protests.
Extremist political group, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) has ignited anger leading to mass street protests for the past several months.
The TLP launched this campaign in November after French President Emmanuel Macron defended the right of the French press to publish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, which the TLP considers blasphemous.
The group is calling on the expulsion of the French ambassador from the country and a ban on all French goods.
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Depictions of the Prophet Muhammad are widely regarded as taboo in the Islamic faith.
Creating visual or other representatives of the Prophet Muhammad is considered to be highly offensive to many Muslims.
In November, the TLP temporarily called off protests in Pakistan, claiming the Government minister agreed to boycott French products.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has criticised Mr Macron for his position as regards representations of the Prophet Muhammad, but the Pakistani Government has denied it agreed to a boycott.
Under Pakistani law, those found guilty of insulting the Prophet Muhammad can face the death penalty.
The TLP threatened further demonstrations in the country in February if the Government did not comply with its demands, but Government negotiators secured an extended deadline for this action to April 20.
Ahead of this deadline, police arrested TLP chief Saad Rizvi, who is the son of the party’s founder Khadim Hussain Rizvi who died in November.
The party came to prominence in 2011 for its opposition to the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri, a policeman who killed the governor of Punjab province Salman Taseer in 2011 after he spoke out against the country’s blasphemy laws.
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Mr Rizvi’s arrest this week sparked outrage and prompted thousands of TLP supporters to begin protests across the country.
These demonstrations included road blockages and mass street gatherings.
Clashes between protesters and authorities, during which water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets were used, led to the deaths of at least two police officers.
Hundreds of police and protesters were wounded in the nationwide demonstrations.
Mr Rizvi was charged under anti-terrorism laws and on Wednesday the Pakistan Government banned the TLP.
Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told reporters: “We have decided to ban the TLP and the draft is going to the cabinet for approval.”
He added the group risked making Pakistan look like a “radical nation”.
Blasphemy allegations have increasingly prompted violent action and targeted attacks in recent years with at least 78 people killed in one such instance in 1990.