Satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, the target of a massacre by gunmen in 2015, reprinted the controversial caricatures that were described as defamatory, racist and Islamophic by Muslims around the world.

Supporters of hardline Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan carry placards and shout slogans during a protest against the reprinting of cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad by French magazine Charlie Hebdo, in Rawalpindi on September 4, 2020.
Supporters of hardline Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan carry placards and shout slogans during a protest against the reprinting of cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad by French magazine Charlie Hebdo, in Rawalpindi on September 4, 2020. (Aamir Qureshi / AFP)

Thousands of protesters have rallied in anti-France demonstrations across Pakistan on Friday as anger swelled over a French magazine's decision to republish caricatures of the Prophet Muhammed.

Earlier this week satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo – the target of a massacre by gunmen in 2015 – reprinted the controversial images to mark the beginning of the trial of the alleged accomplices in the attack.

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Supporters of hardline religious party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan carry placards and shout slogans during a protest in Rawalpindi on September 4, 2020.
Supporters of hardline religious party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan carry placards and shout slogans during a protest in Rawalpindi on September 4, 2020. (Asif Hassan / AFP)

Condemnation

The publication's move sparked condemnation from Pakistan's Foreign Ministry along with calls from religious leaders to hold protests following Friday prayers, spurring thousands to amass in cities where they called for boycotts and the French ambassador's expulsion.

"We need to send a strong message to the French that this disrespect to our beloved Prophet will not be tolerated," protester Muhammad Ansari said during a demonstration in the eastern city of Lahore.

Supporters of hardline Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan seen during a protest in Rawalpindi on September 4, 2020.
Supporters of hardline Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan seen during a protest in Rawalpindi on September 4, 2020. (Asif Hassan / AFP)

Images of the Prophet are proscribed in Islam. Insulting religion under Pakistan's strict blasphemy laws can carry the death penalty.

In the past, politicians have been assassinated, European countries threatened with nuclear annihilation and students lynched over blasphemy allegations.

Friday's demonstrations were largely led by the hardline party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, which has organised huge and often violent protests over alleged blasphemy in the past.

Supporters of hardline Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan shout slogans during a protest in Karachi on September 4, 2020.
Supporters of hardline Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan shout slogans during a protest in Karachi on September 4, 2020. (Afif Hassan / AFP)

The group paralysed much of Pakistan in 2018 with riots after a Christian woman accused of blasphemy was acquitted by the country's supreme court.

Twelve people, including some of France's most celebrated cartoonists, were killed on January 7, 2015, when brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi went on a gun rampage at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris.

On Friday, the paper said its Wednesday edition sold out the first day, prompting it to print 200,000 more copies that will hit newsstands in the coming days.

Source: AFP