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10 weeks after Sialkot tragedy: 85 held for lynching man in Khanewal

The Punjab police say the identification and arrest of the accused was under way

By Our Correspondent
February 14, 2022
10 weeks after Sialkot tragedy: 85 held for lynching man in Khanewal

LAHORE/ KABIRWALA/ ISLAMABAD: Police arrested 85 suspects, including 15 believed to be main culprits, on Sunday for lynching a mentally deranged man over alleged blasphemy in a town of Khanewal district.

The Punjab police say the identification and arrest of the accused was under way with the help of video footage.

Hundreds of people gathered in Jungle Dera village after Maghrib prayers, following announcements that a man had desecrated the Holy Quran. The mob got hold of Mushtaq Rajput, son of Bashir Ahmed of Chak 12, Khanewal, and started beating him.

According to eyewitness accounts, the police reached the spot and arrested Mushtaq, but the mob snatched him again.

The accused is stated to be a middle-aged, mentally-deranged person.

The mob beat him up before stoning him to death after tying him to a tree.

Eyewitnesses told The News the victim had been mentally unsound for a long time. His brother told Geo News that Mushatq had been under treatment of a retired army doctor for years.

The incident took place hardly 10 weeks after the lynching of a Sri Lankan national in Sialkot.

In an initial report, submitted to Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, IGP Rao Sardar said police had registered a terrorism case against 300 unknown suspects, including 33 nominated accused.

The IGP said the police conducted 120 raids and detained suspects, adding that the accused also included the prime suspects. The police would conduct forensic analysis of available footage to identify more suspects. On directions from the CM and the IGP, police continued their secret operation whole night and all senior police officers remained in the field.

Addressing a press conference at Khanewal DC office, Chairman Pakistan Ulema Council and PM’s Special Representative for Religious Harmony, Allama Tahir Ashrafi condemned the incident, and said the prime minister had ordered strict action against the culprits.

He requested the courts to pronounce judgements in cases like this at the earliest.

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

Reacting to the incident, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said the lynching had once again humiliated the entire nation and tarnished Pakistan’s image. "Events like the Mian Channu tragedy after the Sialkot are a moment of reflection for us and the government should conduct a transparent investigation into this tragedy and those responsible should be punished. The mob killings are a question mark on the government's writ," he added.

He said violent groups could not be left unchecked as it would make the whole society insecure. He called for all stakeholders to converge on one page to stop mob killings.

Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry said he had repeatedly drawn attention towards the topics preaching destructive terrorism in the education system of Pakistan.

"Incidents like Sialkot and Mian Channu lynching are an outcome of the educational system enforced in the country for decades," Fawad said, adding that the matter is both about the implementation of law and deterioration of society.

The minister warned of major destruction if "reforms are not made on schools, police stations and pulpits level."

Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari said the culprits would not be allowed to escape punishment.

Mazari said that the Punjab government acted like a silent spectator at the time of the incident.

Taking to Twitter, the minister said that laws are there and police should implement them and not let mob act as they please.

She also urged the provincial government to take immediate action against police for letting such an incident happen again.

"The mob lynching of a man in Mian Channu is condemnable & cannot be allowed to go unpunished. Punjab govt must immediately take action against the police that watched it happen & the perpetrators. Laws exist - the police must enforce these laws & not allow mobs to rule the day," Mazari wrote.

In a statement, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said the ruthlessness with which the mob lynched its hapless victim — which included wresting him away from police custody — illustrates all too well that allegations of blasphemy have long gone beyond a law-and-order problem. It is simply not enough to say that the government has a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy towards such perpetrators when its own minister brushed aside a similar incident as a case of ‘high emotions’.

“The state has consistently pandered to political and religious groups that have never had any qualms about encouraging religious fanaticism. HRCP notes with grave concern a seeming uptick in mob vigilantism and warns the government that, if it does not pushback against fanaticism on all fronts, it is ordinary citizens who will continue to pay the price,” the statement concluded.