By Faisal Mahmood and Asad Hashim
ISLAMABAD, March 29 – Pakistani authorities blocked mobile phone service for a third day in Islamabad on Tuesday as hundreds of hardline Muslim activists continued to protest the execution of a man who killed a governor over his criticism of harsh blasphemy laws.
Security forces occasionally jam mobile phone signals during important events to prevent remote detonation of bombs and communications among potential rioters. But this week’s outage was the longest and most widespread in recent memory.
Protesters clashed with police on Sunday, but on Tuesday remained mostly peaceful, saying they had communicated a list of demands to the government – including a call for the execution of all blasphemers.
The outpouring of support for ex-bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri comes just after a suicide bomber targeting Christians killed 72 people in the eastern city of Lahore and highlights the growing tension between hardline Sunni Islamists and Pakistan’s civilian government.
“We are members of the Sunni parliament, sitting outside Pakistan’s parliament,” one of the protest’s leaders, Mohammad Ashraf Asif Jallali, told Reuters.
Calling themselves the Movement Standing With The Prophet of Allah, the protesters consider Qadri a hero who defended Islam by assassinating Lahore governor Salman Taseer.
The protesters said they had communicated a list of demands to the government but had no response after clashes with police on Sunday that injured 60 people and left a metro bus terminal trashed.
On Tuesday, the capital was relatively calm, but bus services had yet to resume and mobile phone service was blocked for a third day in Islamabad and in nearby Rawalpindi, Qadri’s hometown.
An official at the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority confirmed the blocking of signals since Sunday afternoon “in the surroundings of parliament”.
The blockage was intended to be targeted only at the protest area but locations of the relay towers have caused wide swathes of Islamabad to be affected, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“These outages are normally ordered by the interior ministry … They take the decision. We simply execute the decision.”
The spokesman for the Ministry of Interior did not pick up several calls to his land line on Tuesday.