Saudi authorities on Friday arrested some Pakistani pilgrims for hounding and chanting abusive slogans against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his delegation at the Masjid-i-Nabwi in the holy city of Madina, the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Islamabad confirmed on Friday. According to the media director of the Saudi embassy, the protesters have been taken into custody for "violating the regulations" and "disrespecting" the sanctity of the revered mosque by chanting "chor chor" (thieves) as soon as they saw the prime minister, Pakistan's Dawn newspaper reported.
The newly appointed prime minister is on a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia -- his first foreign trip since assuming office -- along with a delegation including Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari among others. The delegation, which headed to the Prophet's mosque to offer prayers after arriving in Madina on Thursday, faced protest and chanting at the holy mosque, highlighting the videos circulating on social media.
Prime Minister Sharif and his son Hamza are facing allegations of money laundering. They have denied any wrongdoing and alleged that the cases against them were politically motivated. Another video showed the pilgrims heckling and chanting abusive slogans against federal ministers Marriyum Aurangzeb and Shahzain Bugti, who were escorted by Saudi guards. A pilgrim could also be seen pulling Bugti's hair from behind.
Responding to the harassment faced by pilgrims, Marriyum Aurangzeb in a video message said the act was perpetrated by a "select group", while most Pakistanis respect the sanctity of the holy mosque. "I don’t want to name the person responsible for this incident because I don’t want to use this holy land for political purposes," she added.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said his ministry would request the Saudi Arabia government to take "appropriate action" against the Pakistani pilgrims. "My ministry will make a humble request to the Saudi government to take appropriate action on this matter. We are going to convey the pain the nation felt at these incidents in Masjid-i-Nabwi," he said.
Sanaullah said the Saudi authorities would be requested to identify those involved in the incident so that they could be deported to Pakistan as they were "not worthy of living on the sacred land". Condemning the incident, Pakistan Ulema Council chairman Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi said Muslims were meant to bow their heads and lower their voices in Masjid-i-Nabwi instead of raising dirty slogans and hurling allegations on the holy day of Ramzan.
Blaming ousted prime minister Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) for the incident, Aseefa Bhutto-Zardari, sister of newly appointed Foreign Minister Bilawal, said the Opposition party was inciting "intolerance and divisiveness". Religious scholar Maulana Tariq Jameel also tweeted that the protest at the holy mosque wasn't "acceptable in Islam". Meanwhile, PTI General Secretary Asad Umar asserted that respecting the sanctity of holy places was a must for everyone.