HR minister slammed for blaming external forces for anti-blasphemy violence

    Church leaders and rights activists have condemned the federal human rights minister for blaming external forces for instigating mob violence in Pakistan, saying the government should curb religious extremism and bring legislation to stop the misuse of the blasphemy laws if it was serious about protecting its citizens from violence perpetrated in the name of religion.

    Human Rights Minister Mian Riaz Hussain Pirzada had earlier this week blamed external elements for mob violence in the country.

    Meeting with a parliamentary delegation of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Freedom of Religion or Belief from the United Kingdom (UK), the minister claimed that whenever a visit of an international monitory or human rights organisation was expected, an untoward incident was caused by “foreign spy agencies of hostile neighbours” to defame Pakistan.

    Pirzada was referring to the ghastly incident in Punjab’s Nankana Sahib district where a violent mob on Feb 11, burned a Muslim man to death after dragging him out of a police station on allegations of blasphemy.

    “It is unfortunate that the government is now blaming external forces for its failure to protect the people from being targeted by extremist elements,” Church of Pakistan Moderator Bishop Dr Azad Marshal said.

    He said that religion had been weaponised by those in power for over four decades to tighten the noose around vulnerable religious groups and the majority Muslim community itself was now suffering amid the state’s inaction to curb extremism.

    “The misuse of blasphemy allegations is a major issue faced by religious minorities in the country which often leads to the extrajudicial killing of the accused. Muslims now falling in the crosshairs of religious extremists only goes on to prove the failure of the country’s legal system despite the existence of strict laws against committing blasphemy,” Bishop Marshal added.

    He also stressed the need for strict punishment for those who resorted to violence in the name of safeguarding religion.

    “It is high time the state acts to tackle extremism that lies at the centre of such incidents of mob violence by punishing all those involved,” Bishop Marshal said, adding that people getting off scot-free after the brutal lynching of a Sri Lankan national in Sialkot and several other such incidents had only encouraged religiously-charged groups to take the law into their own hands time and again.

    Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) Executive Director Peter Jacob also expressed concern over the minister’s remarks and called for authorities to substantiate the claims.

    “One ministry trying to place the onus on another… in this case, the minister claiming that it was the failure of the country’s intelligence agencies, is extremely concerning,” he said.

    “We have seen such disgruntled reactions from various ministers over the years despite who was in power and this calls for an investigation to determine if such conspiracies are being hatched,” Jacob said, adding that external forces being able to mobilise hundreds of people within Pakistan was a serious threat.

    On the internal threat of extremism, he said that certain religiopolitical groups had repeatedly been named following such incidents of mob violence and the government was well aware of the culprits if it ever decided to act against them.


    Earlier, the Nankana Sahib police arrested 60 suspects involved in the lynching of 35-year-old Waris outside the Warburton police station.

    Several police teams launched a massive crackdown at the residences, business points, and other places to round up the suspects.

    According to Sheikhupura Regional Police Officer (RPO) Babar Sarfraz Alpa, 17 suspects have been nominated in the FIR [First Information Report].

    “Raids are underway for the arrest of others,” Nankana Sahib District Police Officer (DPO) Asim Iftikhar said, adding that the Warburton police lodged two FIRs — one against hundreds of suspects who attacked the police station and murdered Waris and the other for desecrating the holy Quran.

    He said that the police teams seized 923 video clips of the incident, and identified and arrested 60 suspects, adding that the identification of more suspects was in process.

    The forensic analysis of the clips, mostly recorded with mobile phones, was also done.

    According to the DPO, an 800-strong mob attacked the police station in order to illegally detain the man accused of blasphemy. He claimed that there were 50 police personnel who tried to save the accused, but they were outnumbered.

    He said that in response to an emergency call for reinforcement, several police personnel were on the way but the mob killed the accused before their arrival.

    He said some 15 people arrested were members of a religious-cum-political party.

    Another senior police officer declared the 15 religious activists principally responsible for the lynching incident.

    He said that Waris, who was lynched, was recently released from jail in a blasphemy case registered in 2019. He said the deceased was declared innocent by the court of law.

    Married in 2016, Waris divorced his wife within a couple of years and was living alone in his house in the jurisdiction of Warburton police station.

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