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Inside Pakistan's lynching epidemic

March 26, 2022
topics: Human Rights
by: Kaswar Klasra
located in: Pakistan
tags: human rights, lynching, Pakistan

The gruesome lynching of Mushtaq Rajput in Punjab, Pakistan has rocked the nation and shed light on a rising epydemic of blasphamy-related lynchings, mostly tareting religious minorities. Can governmental action bring an end to this disturbing wave of violence?

Editor's note: this article contains graphic descriptions of violence. 

In a remote village nicknamed ‘jungle Dera’ in the Khanewal district of Pakistan’s biggest province of Punjab, an elderly mother has not slept for days. She has been sitting at the main gate of her house, waiting for her son.

“I know my son is alive. He will come back before the sunset,” she tells everybody each day. Despite her family’s convincing, she could not accept the fact that her son, Mushtaq Rajput, will not return. 

Rajput, in his 40s and diagnosed with chronic schizophrenia, was the South Asian nation’s latest victim to the blasphemy-related mob killings that are increasingly common in Pakistan. According to an investigative report published by Al Jazeera last year, as many as 75 people have been extra-judicially killed in connection with blasphemy allegations since 1990. 

Controversial law

The contentious blasphemy law, enacted by the colonial British governors, made it a crime to disturb a religious assembly, trespass on burial grounds, insult religious beliefs or intentionally destroy or defile a place or an object of worship. The maximum punishment under these laws ranges from one year to 10 years in jail, with or without a fine.

Any remarks authorities consider derogatory against Islamic personages can subject offenders to up to three years in prison, while desecration of the Koran can even put any convicted parties behind bars for life. Blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad and the penalty recommended was "death, or imprisonment for life.”

Human rights and critics believe that the law is often used to settle personal vendettas or target religious minorities. According to a report by Amnesty International, as many as 633 Muslims, 494 Ahmadis, 187 Christians and 21 Hindus have been accused under the blasphemy laws. In numerous cases since 1987, the mob killed people under various provisions on offenses related to religion.

A report published by the Center for Research and Security Studies has recently revealed that more than 1,400 people, most of them ethnic or religious minorities, were falsely accused of violating the country’s blasphemy laws since 1947. What is more alarming is that 1,200 out of the 1400 incidents were documented during the past decade, marking a notable increase in recent years. 

Rajput’s case

In late February, hundreds of villagers in Khanewal gathered at ‘Sitara Chowk’, a small market of the village before the sunset. They were looking for Rajput,  who was said to have desecrated the Holy Quran, Muslim’s holy book, a day before - even as some of them had been aware of Rajput’s mental disability. 

"Death to the Blasphemer," they shouted.

Rajput showed up - he was on his way to buy cigarettes in a shop nearby. Upon his presence, the crowd of villagers had turned into a mob and started beating him with bricks, stones and batons. Helpless, Rajput clung onto his beard and cried, according to Muhammad Mumtaz, an eyewitness of the lynching. 

“His screams were heartbreaking,” Mumtaz told FairPlanet. “But no one in the congregation felt sorry for him. Everybody in the crowd seemed desperate to play their role in killing him. Everybody in the crowd was excited to shed the blood. And then suddenly, his heart-wrenching screams stopped. His neck tilted to one side, but he was still breathing.”

The angry mob did not stop there. They then hung Rajput upside down from a tree and started bombarding him with more stones and bricks until he took his last breath. Some witnesses attempted to put this to a stop and save Rajput, but to no avail. 

“Every stone thrown on his body was an attack on humanity, not the accused. I had tried to save him but the crowd pushed me back. The blood-thirsty vultures were scratching the body of humanity. As soon as the soul left the body of the accused, these vultures [retreated] in different directions, leaving behind the dead body hanging from a tree,” Mumtaz said.

Authorities failed to halt the lynching 

The team of officers from Tulamba Police Station that scrambled to the spot to save Rajput was too late. Witnesses said they were threatened by the mob and could not get near the victim, and when they could, Rajput was already dead.

According to a doctor who performed an autopsy on Rajput, not a single bone of his dead body was left unbroken. “I had never witnessed a dead body like this before. They smashed all of his bones including head,” the surgeon told FairPlanet.

His brother said that Rajput suffered from mental illness for years. 

“My brother had been under treatment for years. How can they [mob] kill a mentally ill man? I will appeal to the Chief Justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court to punish the killers,” he told FairPlanet.

The murder of a mentally ill man has sent shocking waves across the country of 220 million majority Muslim population. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the lynching and asked the police chief to look into the matter.

“We have zero tolerance for anyone taking the law into their own hands & mob lynchings will be dealt with the full severity of the law. Have asked Punjab IG for the action report taken against perpetrators of the lynching in Mian Channu & against the police who failed in their duty,” Prime Minister said on Twitter.

The police set up a case against 300 suspects and claimed to arrest 180 people as of the filing of this report.

The incident took place only 10 weeks after the lynching of a Sri Lankan national in Pakistan. Last December, a brutal mob killed a Sri Lankan man accused of blasphemy. 

Priyantha Diyawadanage (48), a factory manager in one of Pakistan’s Industrial cities of Sialkot, was beaten to death and his body was set alight. The incident shocked the world. The police arrested a few dozen people following the gruesome murder of Diyawadanage. 

Aftermath

Following the murder of Rajput, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) has recently issued a decree declaring violence against a person on allegations of blasphemy contrary to Islamic laws. 

"Subjecting any person to violence on allegations of dishonoring religion and desecration of the Holy Quran and was against Islamic laws Shariah, inhumane and contrary to Islamic principles," the statement said, quoting the body's chairperson, Dr. Qibla Ayaz.

In a bid to stop such incidents in the future, Khan’s administration formed a committee comprising clerics and high-ranking government officers to make relevant recommendations. 

However, human rights activists in Pakistan said such a case wouldn’t stop until the government takes steps to de-radicalise society and halt people’s abuse of the country’s blasphemy laws.

"Everybody in Pakistan knows the blasphemy laws are being misused in Pakistan," Zuhra Yousuf, former head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan told FairPlanet. "The government needs to refine them so that they are not misused."

Image by freebiespic via Pixabay

Article written by:
IMG-20220308-WA0016
Kaswar Klasra
Author
Pakistan
The term "Quran desecration" is defined as insulting the Quran - which Muslims believe to be the literal word of God, in its original Arabic form - by defiling or defacing copies.
© Marvin del Cid via GettyImages
Pakistani local journalists take images of the court verdict against suspects accused in a blasphemy lynching case pasted on a notice board outside the central jail in Haripur.
© AAMIR QURESHI/AFP via Getty Images
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