The increasing number of cases of mob violence in Punjab stemming from blasphemy accusations have instilled fear in people across the country, especially the minority communities, as police in Muzaffargarh district foiled yet another lynching attempt and rescued the suspect on Monday.
The incident in Muzaffargarh’s Alipur tehsil comes on the heels of two similar incidents in the past week where one blasphemy accused was brutally killed and his body stoned after being hung from a tree in Mian Channu tehsil on Feb 12, while another accused was injured by a violent mob in Tandlianwala area of Faisalabad the next day, Feb 13.
According to a media report, the Muzaffargarh police were informed on Monday about a Quran desecration incident in Jagmal area of Alipur tehsil. The complainant alleged that he witnessed the accused burning pages of the Holy Quran in front of a mosque after Isha prayers. He stated that he locked the suspect in a room and called the police emergency helpline.
The report stated that a mob gathered on the spot after news of the alleged incident spread but a heavy contingent of police arrived just in time to take the suspect into its custody. The suspect was later moved to an undisclosed location on the orders of Muzaffargarh District Police Officer Tariq Wilayat.
The Alipur Saddar police have registered a case against the suspect under Section 295-B of the blasphemy statutes and sealed the FIR [First Information Report]. According to the report, a group of 25 to 30 people came to the police station and found no one there.
It quoted Station House Officer (SHO) Ghulam Mujtaba as saying that the suspect seemed to be mentally deranged.
On Sunday, a mob in Faisalabad carrying clubs, bricks and other hard objects surrounded the house of a suspect accused of burning the pages of the Holy Quran and attacked him.
Already alerted, the police rescued the man and shifted him to an undisclosed location, said the Punjab police chief. He added that the police engaged religious leaders of all sects to ensure peace in the area.
“We received an emergency call at 15 at about 5.30 pm on Sunday that a Shia scholar had defiled the Holy Quran,” said Faisalabad Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Operations Mubashar Maikan.
He said the police patrolling team responded instantly and rescued him.
Meanwhile, six more prime suspects were arrested in the case of lynching of a man suspected of blasphemy in Talumba area of Khanewal district on Monday, taking the total number of arrested suspects to 102.
The mentally ill man was lynched by a mob over alleged desecration of the Holy Quran. The victim, identified as Mushtaq Ahmed, was accused of entering a mosque and setting pages of the Holy Quran on fire. He was captured by two locals. With the police alerted, they reached the spot and took the man into custody.
After hearing about the burning of the Holy Quran, hundreds of other locals approached the mosque. The mob broke the doors of a room, took the man away from the police custody and stoned him to death.
A case under murder and terrorism charges was registered against 33 nominated and around 300 unidentified suspects. The arrested suspects could be seen in the mobile footage provoking the citizens for violence and torturing the victim with sticks and bricks.
A senior police official, on the condition of anonymity, said an inquiry was also initiated against the policemen present when the man was lynched. He said the inquiry would be completed within a couple of days and action would be taken against the negligent policemen.
‘TIME TO ACT BEYOND CONDEMNATIONS’
Rights bodies and leaders of religious minorities have blamed the government’s inaction over stopping the misuse of blasphemy accusations for the increase in mob violence.
Church of Pakistan Moderator/President Bishop Dr Azad Marshall said the people were still reeling from the gory images of the lynching of Sri Lankan national Priyantha Kumara in Sialkot in December 2021, and now videos of Mushtaq Ahmed’s brutal killing had further instilled fear in them.
“This is not the first time the police has failed to save a life from the frenzied mobs. It failed to save Mashal Khan in 2017, and then Priyantha Kumara last year. Mushtaq Ahmed’s brazen killing shows that the successive governments’ capitulation to extremist forces over the years has emboldened and given a sense of impunity to this barbaric public mentality.
“It is time that the government and religious leaders act beyond condemnations. There’s a need to identify the ideologies and regressive narratives that are responsible for this toxicity in our society and work to address them. We also need to come up with legislation that acts as a strong deterrent against misuse of the blasphemy laws otherwise no citizen will be safe from false accusations and the risk of being lynched by mobs,” he said.
In a statement, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) stated that the Mian Channu lynching incident illustrates all too well that allegations of blasphemy have long gone beyond a law and order problem.
“It is simply not enough to say that the government has a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy towards such perpetrators when its own minister brushed aside a similar incident as a case of ‘high emotions’. The state has consistently pandered to political and religious groups that have never had any qualms about encouraging religious fanaticism,” it said in a tweet.
The ruthlessness with which the #MianChannu mob lynched its hapless victim illustrates all too well that allegations of blasphemy have long gone beyond a law and order problem. It is not enough to say that the government has a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy towards such perpetrators. pic.twitter.com/x0yCfVRxPA
— Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (@HRCP87) February 13, 2022
MISUSE OF BLASPHEMY ALLEGATIONS
According to a research, at least 89 persons were killed in 1,415 accusations and cases of blasphemy since modern Pakistan was formed in 1947.
The Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) in a report stated that from 1947 to 2021, 18 women and 71 men were extra-judicially killed over blasphemy accusations. The allegations were made against 107 women and 1,308 men. Out of the total, 1,287 persons were accused of committing blasphemy from 2011-21.
“The actual number is believed to be higher because not all blasphemy cases get reported in the press,” the report said, adding that more than 70 per cent of the accused were reported from Punjab. The data showed that 55 cases were filed in the Islamabad Capital Territory, which was more than the cases of blasphemy in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Azad Kashmir put together.
Moreover, 1,098 cases were reported from Punjab followed by 177 from Sindh, 33 from KP, 12 from Balochistan, and 11 from Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK).