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Pakistan Frees Jailed Radical Islamist Leader Rizvi

Tehrik-e Labaik Pakistan leader Saad Rizvi (center) meets with supporters in January.

Pakistani authorities have released the jailed leader of a radical Islamist party who was behind protests that triggered deadly clashes with police.

Saad Rizvi, the leader of Tehrik-e Labaik Pakistan (TLP), was released from prison in the eastern city of Lahore on November 18 and was greeted by hundreds of supporters as he reached the party's headquarters, the Rehmatul Lil Alameen Mosque.

Rizvi was arrested in April amid violent demonstrations against France linked to the publication of political cartoons depicting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

His release comes a week after his name was removed from a terrorism watch list, under a deal to end a 10-day protest march toward Islamabad that resulted in deadly clashes with police. The protesters had called for the expulsion of France’s ambassador and Rizvi’s release.

On November 7, the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan announced it had lifted the ban on the radical Islamist group, saying the party will now be allowed to participate in mainstream politics in the "larger national interest."

The TLP, which gained prominence in 2017, campaigned in the election the following year on the single issue of defending the country’s blasphemy law, which calls for the death penalty for anyone who insults Islam.

With reporting by Dawn and Reuters