Mob Lynches Man in Pakistan Police Custody over Alleged Blasphemy

ISLAMABAD — An enraged mob in central Pakistan stormed a police station Saturday, grabbed a detainee facing blasphemy charges and lynched him before setting the body on fire.

The incident happened in Nankana Sahib, a remote city in the most populous Punjab province of the Muslim-majority country.

Area police officials said the victim had been taken into custody for allegedly desecrating the Quran. They said news of the alleged crime outraged residents and hundreds of them later surrounded the police station, demanding the accused be handed over to them.

The large crowd prompted duty police officers to flee the facility, allowing protesters to grab the 35-year-old man and drag him out on the street before beating him to death.

Videos circulating on social media showed protesters dragging the body naked, through the streets before burning it.

A provincial police statement said senior staff at the police station had been suspended for failing to prevent the mob assault and an immediate inquiry into the incident had been ordered.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also denounced the mob assault and ordered authorities to quickly investigate it, his office said in a statement.

"Why didn’t the police stop the violent mob? The rule of law should be ensured. No one should be allowed to influence the law," Sharif was quoted as saying.

Sharif’s special representative for interreligious harmony, Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, said in a statement the "inhuman torture and killing" of the suspected blasphemer was a "cruel and criminal act."

"The Islamic Shariah and the law of Pakistan do not allow anyone to be a litigant by himself, a judge and an arbitrator by himself," Ashrafi wrote on Twitter.

Blasphemy is a highly sensitive issue in predominantly Muslim Pakistan, and the offense is punishable by death. Mere allegations of blasphemy are enough to cause riots and the killing of the accused by vigilante groups.

Suspects are often attacked and sometimes lynched by mobs. Domestic and international rights groups say mere allegations of blasphemy are enough to cause mob attacks and the the killing of accused. Blasphemy laws are also used to fulfill personal vendettas and disputes and intimidate religious minorities.

Saturday’s incident came nearly two weeks after Pakistan assured a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council that it was taking steps to counter misuse of blasphemy laws.

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar told the January 30 Geneva meeting the government had instituted safeguards against the misuse of the blasphemy law. She cited legal provisions calling for action against anyone falsely accusing someone of blasphemy.

Blasphemy laws in Pakistan have enabled and encouraged Islamist extremists to operate with impunity, easily targeting religious minorities or those with differing beliefs, including nonbelievers, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said in its 2022 country report.

The commission alleged the Sharif government also "weaponized the discriminatory blasphemy laws" against former prime minister Imran Khan and his cabinet members.

"Religious minorities, however, remain particularly vulnerable to aggression and accusations under these laws as they continue to face threats of violence in a society that has grown increasingly intolerant of religious diversity," the report said.