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EDITORIAL: In a gruesome reminder of the Sialkot lynching of a Sri Lankan factory manager, a mentally disturbed man was brutally killed in a Khanewal village of Punjab last Saturday over alleged desecration of the Holy Quran. Following an announcement — from the local mosque — a mob tied him to a tree and attacked him with bricks and stones until he was dead. Although a police team had arrived on the scene in time and arrested the accused, but failed to save him. Instead of calling in reinforcements they let the crowd do its deed.

The next day in a copycat incident in Faisalabad a violent mob assailed and injured a man using the same allegation, though this time the police rescued the accused and shifted him along with his family members to an undisclosed location for safety. Over the years, there have been several such incidents almost always involving a personal grudge or a property grab. Many accused remain languishing in jails.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has directed all concerned to adopt “zero tolerance” against those who take the law into their own hands, and action against the police officials “who failed in their duty.” Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari also urged the Punjab government to take action against the perpetrators and the police personnel who watched it happen.

The police are there to protect the citizens, but it has been repeatedly seen that they are reluctant to use force in such incidents, apparently, to evade censure from certain sections of society. It is worth noting that whilst leaders of major political parties, the PML-N and PPP, have strongly condemned the lynching, the two mainstream religious parties, the JUI-F and JI, have maintained silence, which suggests indirect endorsement of the heinous crime.

They are also opposed to any change in the Blasphemy Laws proposed by some to provide for the same punishment for anyone making false accusations as for the accused in conformity with the Islamic teachings-based Hudood laws. No surprise then that these are freely abused by devious elements for malicious purposes. Mere pointing of finger can lead to lynching or the police registering a blasphemy case — which carries the extreme penalty of death, added to the blasphemy laws by the Nawaz Sharif government — without proper investigation due to fear of their own lives.

For the same reason, lawyers refuse to defend the accused, and lower courts tend to dismiss their pleas for justice without examining evidence. In fact not long ago in Multan a counsel for a blasphemy accused was killed, and before that a judge of the Lahore High Court shot dead in his chambers for exonerating a falsely accused Christian man. All this has been going on in the name of Islam, a religion of peace, and its holy personages.

Speaking to journalists after visiting the victim’s family along with several other ulema on Sunday, PM’s Special Representative on Religious Harmony Maulana Tahir Ashrafi raised a pertinent point when he said such incidents do not happen in any of the other Muslim country (the only exception being the violent extremists-infested Afghanistan). That should give pause to all concerned. He also appealed to Chief Justice of Pakistan to conduct speedy trial of all blasphemy cases, adding that there is consensus on taking strict action against those involved in the present case.

However, as may be recalled, when in January 2019 a three-member bench of the apex court acquitted a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, of a blasphemy charge, the TLP, supported by JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, had staged an aggressive protest sit-in against the court verdict, and also called for assassination of the judges who let her free as well as the PM.

Yet it faced no consequences for that highly cognizable offence. That group has since gone on to challenge the writ of the state, killing several policemen with impunity and destroying private and public properties in violent protests on religious pretexts. Clearly, the government or the police alone cannot stop misuse of the blasphemy laws. It is about time political and as well as religious parties and those backing extremist elements like the TLP realised the gravity of the prevailing situation and did everything necessary to put an end to such outrageous, inhuman acts in the fair name of Islam.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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