02/13/2023, 12.05
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Punjab: mob lynches man accused of blasphemy

by Shafique Khokhar

Muhammad Waris was taken out of the Warburton police station, stripped naked and beaten to death. According to investigating officers, the mob of fanatics numbered at least 800 people. Human rights defenders are calling for serious government action against lynchings.

Nankana Sahib (AsiaNews) - A mob of fanatics lynched a man held in police custody in Warburton, in the district of Nankana Sahib (eastern Punjab province), after he was accused of blasphemy for allegedly desecrating the Koran.

Muhammad Waris was captured, taken outside the station, dragged naked through the street and beaten to death with wooden and metal rods. In some videos that went viral on social media, some people are also seen attempting to set fire to the corpse.   

The officers who were on duty were suspended for leaving the station during the onslaught of the crowd (of about 800 people, according to some statements), while the prime minister ordered an investigation.

But these are insufficient actions for human rights defenders: "The government has not developed strategies to solve these problems and to deal with emergency situations such as the recent lynching," commented Naveed Walter, president of the organisation Human Rights Focus Pakistan. 

"In a few days' time, the actions of the authorities will be worthless," Walter continued, adding that he has appealed to the Supreme Court to proceed with an action not to judge the individual lynching case, but to establish a long-term strategy and a permanent solution: "Blasphemy cases are sensitive and the security of every accused should be strengthened. No government has taken serious action to curb lynchings, on the contrary, the police have also in other cases allowed angry mobs to carry out these actions. But only the courts have the right to confirm who is guilty. The inability to stop violations of the rule of law thus becomes support for the fanatics."

Muhammad Waris had already been charged with blasphemy in 2019 and had just been released after being found innocent by the court. 

Other activists and organisations also condemned the lynching: the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan pointed out that "the weak measures put in place so far give the idea of an impotent state, not an entity protecting the lives and property of citizens".

The police in Nankana Sahib explained that they have so far arrested 60 people suspected of being involved in the lynching after seizing and analysing over 900 videos filming the incident. The local police chief said some 50 officers attempted to rescue Muhammad Waris, but they were outnumbered and reinforcements arrived after the man had already been killed.

Interviewed by AsiaNews, Samson Salamat, president of Readari Tehreek, an interreligious movement against extremism, said, "The lynching of another person accused of blasphemy is yet further proof of the failure of the state apparatus to maintain control of the situation when public reactions to blasphemy accusations occur. Pakistan is displaying the fruits of the seed of religious intolerance, made possible by years of distorted curricula in religious seminaries, impunity granted to extremist groups, and religious propaganda facilitated by the blasphemy laws."

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