Mob justice is no justice

Our criminal justice system is as flawed as our collective consciousness

Mob justice is no justice

Incidents of mob justice in Pakistan are reflective of our deteriorating rule of law. These cases reaffirm the fact that our criminal justice system is as flawed, if not more, as our collective consciousness. These should make us realise that our selective application of legality and equality before law will never benefit the weak or the marginalised in our society. The phenomenon is an accurate representation of our dysfunctional and corrupt law enforcement authorities.

In Pakistan, dispensation of ‘justice’ by an angry mob instead of our courts of law is not a recent phenomenon. In 2010, two brothers Muneeb and Mughees, aged 15 and 17 respectively, after being wrongly accused of theft, were hung and mutilated by a mob in Sialkot, allegedly with the support of local police and Rescue 1122 officials. In 2014, a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) report submitted to the honourable Supreme Court confirmed that a young Christian couple in Kot Radha Kishan was beaten and burnt to death by an enraged mob in the presence of police officials over allegations of blasphemy. In 2017, on the basis of false accusations and rumours of posting blasphemous content online, 23-year-old Mashal Khan was stripped naked and severely beaten by a mob of students before being shot on the premises of the Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan.

In the most recent instance, we have witnessed 16-year old Rehan being beaten to death by a mob in Karachi’s Bahadurabad area on alleged suspicion of robbery. The deranged mob took the teenager to the rooftop of the bungalow he had allegedly entered. Rehan was tightly tied to a rusted cage, clearly visible to many more residents of Kokan Colony who had assembled on their rooftops, to witness his cries of mercy and murder. The mob, comprising people of various age groups, removed his jeans and tortured him with iron rods and wooden sticks until he died.

Reportedly, his torturers called the Rangers and thereafter, Rehan’s body was taken to the hospital where it remained unidentified for several hours. The video and images bearing testament to the inhumane actions leading to the murder of young Rehan surfaced online and have since been present on our social media timelines.

Per newspaper reports, Rehan’s father, Muhammad Zaheer, has demanded that a JIT be constituted to look into the incident leading to the tragic demise of his teenage child. Expectedly, an FIR has been filed under Sections 302 (Qatl-e-amd), 316 (Qatl shibh-i-amd) of the Pakistan Penal Code 1860 (PPC) and Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 (ATA).

The pain and agony of Rehan’s family members is unimaginable. Their demand for justice is an undeniable right.

The response of our law enforcement agencies has been satisfactory when compared to their pace and progress otherwise, particularly in cases involving a person belonging to the underprivileged section of our society, and in cases which have not caused uproar in the media.

In this backdrop, it is pertinent to ask these questions: [1] Are our law enforcement agencies able and equipped to conduct thorough investigations in matters of public extra judicial killings? [2] Will the judicial system of our country guarantee a fair trial in such instances and not be affected by extraneous factors, such as media attention? [3] In case of conviction and sentence, in the instant matter, can the judgment of our superior court prevent or even limit instances of mob justice? [4] Is media attention along with personal interests of a few politicians and activists the only way to ensure access to justice for people living in poverty?

The politically correct legal response to the aforesaid questions is that our penal laws contain substantive and procedural rights to ensure effective dispensation of justice in such cases. It is clear that offences under Sections 302 and 316 of the PPC and Section 7 of the ATA are attracted in cases of mob lynching. But is proving the commission of offences, beyond reasonable doubt, the only caveat in such cases?

The harsh realities of our time require us to be cognisant of the fact that there is no fear of accountability of violence or injustice to the poor in our society. There is always a possibility of maneuvering around or manipulating the justice system on account of the material status of the victim or the perpetrator. We have seen cases such as these become old news in a matter of time and attention being diverted to other incidents.

We must realise that there is a need for stricter and coherent legislation to prevent the menace of mob lynching in our land. We require legislation which specifically criminalises the act of lynching, establishes special courts for speedy trials, and sanctions appointments of dedicated nodal officer(s) in addition to introducing stricter punishments. We also need to realise that a piece of legislation alone cannot prevent instances of mob lynching. Measures such as specialised police training and running campaigns on severity of punishment to create deterrence have to be implemented.

Also read: The digital vigilante

It cannot be ruled out that mob lynching is the result of a particular set of social and psychological factors and circumstances. In our case, state inaction has inevitably become the fuel of encouragement for perpetrators who cite religious or moral reasons as justification for cold-blooded murder. However, simply criminalising mob lynching through a special law without addressing the contributing social and psychological factors will not necessarily prevent the commission of this offence.

It is time that we concentrate on redefining our ideals and standards of humanity. We need to start calling the perpetrators of this offence just what they are: murderers, not preachers of self-righteousness. Morality or perceived piety of murderers, in any progressive society, can never be a defence to their crime.

And even if we are unable to collectively work towards making our society safe for our future generations, we can at least seek guidance from these verses by Zehra Nigah:


Suna hai sher ka jub pait bhar jaaye

toe woh hamla nahi kerta

darkhton ki ghani chaun main ja ker let jaata hai


Suna hai ghonsle se koi bachha gir pare to

sara jangal jaag jaata hai 

Suna hai janglon ka bhi koi dastoor hota hai

Mob justice is no justice