Authorities vow strict action against all culprits, including police, for the brutal murder of ‘mentally ill’ man
An enraged mob in Khanewal district lynched a “mentally ill” man on Saturday night after accusing him of blasphemy, with Prime Minister Imran Khan reiterating vows to ensure the culprits will be “dealt with full severity of the law.”
The Khanewal incident occurred in the district’s Tulamba village, with police saying it was provoked by the custodian of a local mosque allegedly seeing victim Mushtaq Ahmed, 41, burning a copy of the holy Quran and informing the public before contacting police to register a blasphemy case. Authorities said the victim had been begging for mercy and professing his innocence while he was beaten with bricks and iron rods, adding that the mob had hanged his body after beating him senseless.
Eyewitnesses told local media that police had briefly taken Ahmed into custody on blasphemy charges but the mob of hundreds had snatched him away and subsequently murdered him. They also accused the police of acting as spectators to the tragedy and failing to take any action to protect the victim.
In their defense, a police spokesman has said that the three cops deployed to the village had attempted to take the victim into custody but had been overpowered by the mob, which had also attacked them, hurling stones at them and leaving them injured. Munawar Gujjar, chief of Tulamba police station, told the Associated Press that he had rushed reinforcements to the mosque but they were unable to reach it before the mob had stoned to death the man and hung his body from a tree.
“The ill-fated man has been mentally unstable for the last 15 years and according to his family often went missing from home for days begging and eating whatever he could find,” he said, adding that the body had been handed over to the family for burial. The victim’s elder brother told daily Dawn after the burial that police had failed to protect his family member and lamented that his brother’s fingers were chopped off in the heinous incident.
Police chief Gujjar said investigators were examining available videos to try and identify the assailants, adding that it appeared around 300 suspects were involved. A police spokesman said 128 men had been taken into custody so far, including 15 main suspects.
Addressing media from Khanewal on Sunday, Special Representative to the P.M. on Religious Harmony Tahir Ashrafi condemned the incident and stressed that no one would be permitted to take the law into their own hand. Emphasizing that laws already existed to protect religion, he said legal procedures should be followed and urged the Chief Justice of Pakistan to conduct speedy trials of all cases related to blasphemy.
Noting “consensus” on strict action against the culprits who lynched Ahmed, he said action would also be taken against the policemen for negligence. He regretted that the entire world was pointing fingers at Pakistan due to such criminal actions, adding that it was the responsibility of religious leaders, the media and the administration to speak with one voice against all such incidents.
The Khanewal incident occurred a little over two months after a Sri Lankan national was lynched in Sialkot after also being accused of blasphemy. That case had drawn global outrage, with the government vowing to ensure such incidents would never be repeated.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, in a statement posted on Twitter, reiterated that there would be “zero tolerance” for anyone who takes the law into their own hands. “We have zero tolerance for anyone taking the law into their own hands and mob lynchings will be dealt with full severity of the law,” he said. “Have asked Punjab IG to report on action taken against perpetrators of the lynching in Mian Channu and against the police who failed into their duty,” he added.
Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari also condemned the lynching and said it could not go unpunished. “Punjab government must immediately take action against the police that watched it happen and the perpetrators,” she wrote on Twitter. “Laws exist—the police must enforce these laws and not allow mobs to rule the day,” she added.
Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain blamed the “extremist mindset” prevalent in Pakistan’s education system for the tragedy and said a rethink was needed at all levels of society to curb such incidents.
“The tragedy of Mian Channu has once again humiliated the entire nation,” said Pakistan Peoples Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, as he demanded the government conduct a transparent inquiry into the incident and punish all those responsible. He said Pakistan’s image in the international community was being continuously damaged due to such massacres and warned that if such mobs were left unchecked, it could destroy the fabric of society.
Similarly, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, a former prime minister, lamented that the growing number of such incidents was not just shameful, but also worrying and disturbing.