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Pakistan: Police arrest 23 after 'blasphemy' lynching

June 24, 2024

Police in northwestern Pakistan said they were still looking for more potential suspects. A mob attacked a police station to wrest the victim from criminal interrogation, killing him in public and burning his body.

Police in civilian clothes stand near burned out cars and other rubble left by a mob that attacked a local police station, obtained a man in custody there, and then killed him in public. Madyan, Pakistan, June 21, 2024.
The man was snatched from police custody and killed last weekImage: Naveed Ali/AP/dpa/picture alliance

Police in northwestern Pakistan said on Monday that they had arrested at least 23 individuals suspected of being part of a mob that dragged a man from police custody, killed him and burnt his body last week

The victim was accused of "blasphemy," the perceived insult of a god or religion, more specifically of desecrating a copy of the Muslim holy book the Quran in his hotel room. 

Police continue search for further suspects

The mob confronted police in the Swat district of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, demanding they turn the man over to them for immediate punishment. According to the police account, when officers refused and said the man would face a trial if there was merit to the allegations, the crowd attacked, wounding some police. 

"We have already arrested 23 people over the weekend and [are] conducting a raid for more suspected being identified through mobile footage of the incident," local police chief Islamul Haq said. 

Another officer, Mohamed Karam, said that all the suspects were being held at a secret location and were yet to appear in court because of the sensitivity of the case.

Police said the slain man's family was yet to contact them to retrieve the body. Media reports in Pakistan suggest that they were estranged.

Blasphemy laws can carry death penalty, at least in theory

The case prompted public outrage and a stern condemnation from the national parliament on Sunday.

"This House takes serious notice of the recent mob lynchings of our citizens in Swat and Sargodha," the resolution said. "It is noted with grave concern that such incidents have recently increased in different parts of the country, which cannot be tolerated in any civilized society." 

The statement also stressed that "persons involved in these incidents are identified, investigated and prosecuted under the relevant laws." 

Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Pakistan and those accused are often exposed to angry mobs.

The country's laws on the issue, which trace their roots back to British colonial rule but have been made stricter still since Pakistan's independence, can in theory carry the death penalty. However, at least based on official information, nobody has been put to death via Pakistan's courts for the supposed offense.

According to local media tallies, more than 80 people have been killed by mobs and during riots amid accusations of blasphemy since 1990. 

Last month, a mob vandalized a Christian neighborhood in the central province of Punjab and tortured a man over similar allegations. He died in hospital some weeks later. 

In 2020, a Pakistani-US citizen was shot and killed in court as he faced a blasphemy trial.

Pakistan: Officer Shehrbano Naqvi retells 'blasphemy' rescue

msh/ab (AP, dpa)