An influential Islamic party condemned treason charges against its leader, saying the arrest would not deter its campaign against Pakistani support of U.S.–led efforts against terrorism.
Maulana Fazle ur–Rehman was already under house arrest in his hometown of Dera Ismail Khan when the sedition charges were announced Tuesday. The official charge was "instigating people against the government and the armed forces."
Rehman was accused of organizing mass protests that denounced Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's decision to help the United States root out terrorists and their Taliban supporters in neighboring Afghanistan.
"Instead of a treason case against our leaders, a treason case should be registered against Musharraf, who is selling the interests of Pakistan. He's the man who has committed treason," said Riaz Durrani, chief spokesman for Jamiat Ulema–e–Islami.
Muslim militants have harshly criticized Musharraf's government, which is trying to balance internal security concerns with public support of the U.S.–led coalition against terrorism, which has increased Pakistan's stature in the international community.
In the days since the U.S.–led strikes on Afghanistan began, militant parties have staged mass demonstrations across Pakistan, and some have turned violent, though only a small minority of Pakistanis have participated.
The government has allowed the protests but cracked down in recent days, threatening to arrest anyone who acted against the national interest and placing demonstration leaders – including Rehman – under sporadic house arrest.
Treason charges also were filed against Rehman's brother, Ata ur–Rehman, and Abdul Qayyam Nomani, another Jamiat Ulema–e–Islam leader. Both made anti–government speeches at protests in different areas of Pakistan.
Authorities were searching for them Wednesday, said Arif Nawaz, the police chief in Dera Ismail Khan. Each faces up to life imprisonment if convicted.
Nawaz said "the law will move to take required action" against Maulana Fazle ur–Rehman, meaning he will be moved from house arrest to jail.
According to Nawaz, the charges were lodged after Maulana Fazle ur–Rehman made two speeches Sunday in North West Frontier province that instigated people against Musharraf's government.
On Wednesday morning, the telephones had been disconnected from his home, and he was barred from meeting people. Paramilitary troops were deployed outside his house. Police would not say when they would move him to jail.
Meanwhile, in Punjab province, two provincial leaders of another militant religious party were arrested and three others charged with same offense – making speeches against the government, a lesser charge.
The Jamat–e–Islami leaders, Maulana Abdul Khabir and Khawaja Abdul Rehman, were arrested in connection with a mass rally Sunday in the city of Multan. Three other leaders, who were not immediately identified, were also charged but have not been taken into custody.
During the rally, according to Rao Zafar Iqbal, Jamaat–e–Islami's Multan leader, a demonstrator took the microphone and offered dlrs 100,000 to anyone who would kill U.S. President George W. Bush and 100,000 rupees (about dlrs 1,550) for the death of Musharraf.
The man, who was not identified, made the announcement and vanished into the crowd, Iqbal said. He said the man was not associated with the party.
Durrani, the Jamiat Ulema–e–Islam spokesman, condemned the arrests of his party leaders and demanded their immediate release.
"The feelings of the people against America cannot be suppressed," he said, "and the movement launched by Pakistan's patriotic people for defending the ideology of Pakistan and extending support to the Taliban cannot be stopped."Reuse content