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Friday July 19, 2024

Land of mobs

Due process is necessary to determine the veracity of any allegations and one ought to be innocent until proven guilty

By Editorial Board
June 22, 2024
Violent mob gathers outside residence of man accused of committing blasphemy in Punjabs Sargodha district on May 25, 2024. — Screengrab via Geo News
Violent mob gathers outside residence of man accused of committing blasphemy in Punjab's Sargodha district on May 25, 2024. — Screengrab via Geo News

Accusations, even very serious ones, should never directly lead to loss of life and/or targeted violence against the accused. Due process is necessary to determine the veracity of any allegations and one ought to be innocent until proven guilty. This is not only common sense but the country’s laws do not state otherwise either. Sadly, Pakistan appears to be short on the former while whatever the latter says counts for little especially when it comes to a large mob that is convinced it is right. Both of these phenomena were in evidence on Thursday (June 20, 2024) when a man was snatched from a police station and lynched in the Madyan area of Swat after allegations of blasphemy. The mob also set fire to the Madyan Police Station and the vehicles parked there and an exchange of gunfire also reportedly took place between the police and the protesters. This is far from the first instance of mob violence in the country, particularly as it concerns allegations involving offences of a religious nature. If anything, the frequency of such incidents only appears to be growing with a Christian family in Sargodha targeted just last month by their own neighbours after the former thought that the family was guilty of blasphemy. In February, police in Lahore had to rescue a woman from an angry mob that wanted to punish her for allegedly wearing a dress that they mistook for being ‘blasphemous’.

Note how many of the targets of such accusations often belong to groups that are systematically persecuted and disenfranchised in Pakistan such as the rural poor, women and religious minorities. These are the members of society most unable to defend themselves from any allegation. There is also the fact that the allegations, such as the one involving the woman in Lahore, are often outright spurious. In 2022, three seminary students in Dera Ismail Khan murdered a young female teacher after one of their fellow students had told them about her dream that the teacher had committed blasphemy. People taking the law into their own hands and assuming the role of judge, jury and executioner is simply anarchy. This is a condition which Pakistan almost always seems to be on the verge of and, as in this case, those responsible for maintaining law and order seem as helpless as everyone else. Moving past this problem will take time, especially after decades of the implicit support offered to intolerant elements that have sought to divide Pakistanis along extreme lines. The state has to step up and fill its role as the final arbiter when it comes to accusations of any nature. But beyond that, the country also needs to heal the wounds opened by decades of intolerance and communal strife. Beyond immediate law-enforcement responses, there must be a sustained effort to uphold the principles of justice, protect vulnerable communities, and foster a climate of tolerance and respect for due process. The scars of Madyan serve as a stark reminder of the urgent need to safeguard justice from the tyranny of the mob and move forward towards a future where justice is blind and violence is not the arbiter of truth.