LAHORE, Pakistan – Pakistan released a die-hard Islamist leader on Thursday, a week after removing his name from a terrorism watchlist in a deal ending weeks of deadly protests by his supporters, the government and its lawyer said.
Saad Hussain Rizvi, the leader of a Sunni militant group – Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) – has been released from a prison in the city of Lahore, government spokesman Hasaan Khawar told Reuters. His lawyer Muhammad Rizwan confirmed the release.
“By the grace of God he is a free man now,” he said.
Download the NBC News app for the latest news and politics
The release came two weeks after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government agreed to release more than 2,000 detained members of the TLP movement, lifted the group’s ban and agreed to let it participate in the elections.
In return, the TLP would eschew the policy of violence and withdraw an expulsion request from the French ambassador for the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad by a French magazine, negotiators said.
The TLP took to the streets in mid-October, sparking weeks of protests and clashes that killed at least seven police officers, injured dozens on both sides and blocked the country’s busiest highway.
Khan’s government had designated the TLP as a terrorist group and arrested Rizvi amid similar violent protests earlier this year.
The TLP, which can mobilize thousands of supporters, was born in 2015 out of a protest campaign to demand the release of a police guard who murdered a provincial governor in 2011 for his calls to reform blasphemy legislation .
He entered politics in 2017 and surprised the political elite with over 2 million votes in the 2018 election.
The next national elections are scheduled for 2023, and analysts expect political groups to start preparing from early next year.