AFP photographer shot at Pakistan anti-Charlie Hebdo protest

Doctor: The photographer is out of immediate danger and has spoken to colleagues

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AFP photographer Asif Hassan was shot and seriously injured Friday while covering an anti-Charlie Hebdo protest by religious party activists outside the French consulate in Karachi, but was out of immediate danger following surgery.

Hassan did not appear to have been deliberately targeted but police and witnesses said protesters from the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami religious party had been shooting at police and Hassan was caught in the crossfire.

The party denied it was responsible and blamed the police.

“The bullet struck his lung, and passed through his chest. He is out of immediate danger and he has spoken to his colleagues,” Doctor Seemi Jamali, a spokeswoman for Karachi’s Jinnah Hospital where Hassan was taken, told AFP.

She added that Hassan was struck by a non-rubber bullet in his back.

“There were around 350 protesters who wanted to go to the French consulate and when the police tried to stop them they started firing at the police,” senior police official Abdul Khaliq Sheikh told AFP.

A witness at the scene confirmed the police account.

But Hafiz Bilal Ramzan, head of Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba Karachi blamed police for the “indiscriminate” firing.

“Police are responsible for those wounded during the protest including Asif Hasan,” Ramzan said.

The rallies come a day after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif led parliament in condemning the cartoons, regarded by many Muslims as offensive, in Charlie Hebdo, whose offices were attacked last week leaving 12 people dead.

Thousands of religious party activists are expected to turn out nationwide, including followers of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the charitable wing of the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group which masterminded attacks on Mumbai in 2008.

The Jamat-ul-Ahrar faction of the Pakistani Taliban meanwhile issued a statement lauding the two brothers who carried out the Charlie Hebdo assault, saying “they freed the earth from the existence of filthy blasphemers”.

“O enemies of Islam beware! Every youth of this Ummah (Muslim community) is willing to sacrifice himself on the honour of (the) Prophet,” said the statement, which was sent via email by spokesman Ehsanullan Ehsan.

Protesters in the northwest city of Peshawar and central Multan have burnt French flags on the streets.

Rallies are also being carried out in the capital Islamabad and the eastern city of Lahore.

In addition to rallies held by religious parties, lawyers have vowed to boycott court proceedings to show their displeasure over the sketches.

Insulting the Prophet carries the death penalty under Pakistan’s tough blasphemy laws, with 14 people currently languishing on death row.

Rights groups say they are used to persecute minorities and wage personal vendettas.

Mobs often take matters into their own hands and lynch those accused of blasphemy, and such killers are widely feted.

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