The founder of an influential Pakistani Islamist party created to protest any reforms to the country’s ultra-conservative blasphemy laws died Thursday, days after leading demonstrations against France, an official said.
Khadim Hussain Rizvi, 54, who had led Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) since its creation in 2015, died in hospital in the eastern city of Lahore after “suffering from a fever,” TLP spokesman Pir Ijaz Ashrafi told AFP.
Officials did not immediately provide a cause of death for the firebrand cleric.
Rizvi in recent days had led anti-France protests in the capital Islamabad calling for the expulsion of the French ambassador after French President Emmanuel Macron defended the right to criticize Islam as part of freedom of speech.
Rizvi was widely known across Pakistan, especially in the country’s most populous province of Punjab.
He built the TLP to protest the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, a bodyguard who murdered Punjab’s governor in 2011 after he said Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws should be reformed.
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in conservative Pakistan, where laws allow for the death penalty for anyone deemed to have insulted Islam or Islamic figures.
Under Rizvi’s leadership, the TLP and its followers have staged various protests, including violent demonstrations that wrought havoc in several cities in 2018 after Pakistan’s supreme court acquitted a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, of blasphemy charges.
Anti-blasphemy protests organised by Rizvi a year earlier paralyzed Islamabad for several weeks, and were only dispersed after a military-brokered deal forced the law minister to resign.
As news of Rizvi’s death circulated late Thursday, followers began flocking to his Lahore home.
Pakistan’s religious affairs minister Pir Noor-ul-Haq Qadri said in a statement that the nation had “lost a great religious scholar,” while Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted his condolences.
Rizvi had been confined to a wheelchair since a 2009 car accident.