Lahore (Pakistan) (AFP)
Thousands of Shia Muslim worshipers – many of whom do not wear masks – gathered in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Tuesday for a religious procession, stoking fears over the spread of the coronavirus after similar crowds have been accused in neighboring India of its own push.
The federal government had issued a notice banning mass gatherings commemorating the death of Prophet Muhammad’s companion and son-in-law, Imam Ali, but local negotiations with religious leaders failed.
Religious events held in India in recent weeks, including the Kumbh Mela attended by millions of pilgrims, have been held responsible for triggering one of the pandemic’s worst crises to date, closely watched by the Pakistan with increasing anxiety.
“I have attended this procession every year for as long as I can remember,” said Ali Kazmi, 28, who took part in Lahore, where officials estimated between eight and ten thousand worshipers participated.
“They are trying to stop mourning ceremonies and Shiite processions using different excuses. It’s (coronavirus) today, before that it was a matter of safety. These are all excuses. “
Members of the Pakistani Shiite sect represent about 20% of the 220 million inhabitants of the Islamic Republic. Smaller processions were also held in major cities across the country.
Dressed in black, worshipers chanted slogans and slapped their breasts in unison as others whipped each other with blades.
“We reject any restrictions on mourning ceremonies. Your local elections can take place, your markets are open, your government meetings can take place, ”the Pakistani Shiite Ulama Council said in a statement ahead of the rally.
An official from the Lahore Police Department said they tried to negotiate with clerics and religious leaders during the procession, who refused to back down.
Security was, however, always assured.
Pakistan is struggling to contain a third wave of infections, with more than 800,000 cases and 18,000 deaths reported.
Only a small fraction of its population has been vaccinated.
Pakistani authorities have largely avoided cracking down on religious activities in recent months.
Mosques remained open throughout the month of Ramadan, with few adhering to social distancing guidelines during huge nightly gatherings of worshipers.
However, private gatherings, shops and restaurants faced strict restrictions as the military was mobilized to help enforce the rules.
The government also announced an inter-provincial travel ban and imposed hotel and tourist site closures for more than a week on the occasion of Eid celebrations, which typically spur mass movement of people across the country. the country.
© 2021 AFP