PM Imran takes notice of Khanewal mob lynching, says 'zero tolerance' will be shown to perpetrators

Published February 13, 2022
A combination photo showing a mob beating a man for allegedly desecrating the Holy Quran in Khanewal on Saturday. — DawnNewsTV screengrab
A combination photo showing a mob beating a man for allegedly desecrating the Holy Quran in Khanewal on Saturday. — DawnNewsTV screengrab

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday took notice of a mob lynching incident in Khanewal over alleged desecration of the Holy Quran the previous night, saying "zero tolerance" would be shown to the perpetrators and action would be taken against police officials who "failed in their duty".

In an incident that brings back the memories of Sri Lankan national Priyantha Kumara's lynching in December, a middle-aged man was stoned to death by a mob in Khanewal district's Tulamba on Saturday.

The victim rep­orte­dly claimed innocence but the villagers first tied him up to a tree and then hit him with bricks until he died.

According to an eyewitness, a police team had reached the village well before the stoning and even arrested the victim but the mob snatched him from the station house officer's custody.

The incident drew condemnation from political circles, with the prime minister tweeting: "We have zero tolerance for anyone taking the law into their own hands and mob lynchings will be dealt with [the] full severity of the law.

"[I] have asked Punjab IG (inspector general of police) for [a] report on action taken against perpetrators of the lynching in Mian Channu and against the police who failed in their duty."

Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif called the incident "bone-chilling".

"Reversal of extremism in society should be a national cause that requires concerted efforts from all. The present situation can't be allowed to persist," he said.

"A public dialogue can be the first step in the process of deradicalisation."

Separately, Special Representative to Prime Minister on Religious Harmony Hafiz Mohammad Tahir Ashrafi said that the victim was not mentally sound and had been suffering from a mental illness for around 15 years.

When someone commits a crime, there are institutions — such as the police, courts and other administrative bodies — in place to deal with them, he said, adding that the culture of being "judge, jury and executioner" could no longer continue.

Addressing a press conference in Khanewal, he called on the chief justice of Pakistan to conduct speedy trials of blasphemy cases.

Ashrafi said PM Imran was monitoring the case, adding that no one should think of "running the country as per their own desires".

He also told the media that the process to arrest the suspects was underway and said that the prime minister would take action in case there was any negligence.

The PM's aide said that ulema would meet the heirs of the deceased, adding that all Islamic scholars were of the view that no person possessed the right to kill another.

"The legal route should be adopted to lodge complaints instead of resorting to vigilante justice," he said, adding that such actions were against the teachings of the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him).

15 primary suspects arrested

Meanwhile, Punjab police said that officials had arrested 15 primary suspects in the case. In a tweet, police said that 85 citizens had been detained so far and the process to identify further primary suspects was underway.

"Raids are being conducted to arrest more suspects," police said.

In a statement, the Punjab police spokesperson said that the arrested individuals were seen torturing the victim with sticks and hurling bricks in videos of the incident. He added that the suspects had been charged with heinous offence and terrorism.

"Work in underway to identify and arrest more suspects with the help of CCTV footage," he said, adding that officials were also conducting raids.

"The Punjab inspector general and chief minister are personally overseeing the operation," the spokesperson said, adding that those who take the law into their own hands would be punished under the law.

Earlier today, Punjab Inspector General of Police Rao Sardar Ali Khan submitted a preliminary report of the incident to Punjab Chief Minis­ter Usman Buzdar.

According to the report, a case was registered against 33 suspects and 300 unknown persons while sections related to heinous crimes and terrorism were also added.

The report informed the chief minister that the police have already conducted more than 120 raids at various locations and detained several suspects, while more raids were underway. A secret police operation was carried out throughout the night, with senior police officers present in the field, it added.

The report said a forensic analysis of the incident's footage would help identify the culprits and determine their role.

Strict government response

Several government officials took notice of the incident, with Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari saying the incident was "condemnable and should not go unpunished".

"Punjab government must immediately take action against the police that watched it happen and the perpetrators. Laws exist — the police must enforce these laws and not allow mobs to rule the day," she said.

She shared a statement from Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Religious Harmony Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi, who also condemned the incident and called for action against the perpetrators.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said he had "repeatedly pointed out" the destructive extremist elements present in the education system.

"This problem is one of rule of law and one of social decline as well. Be prepared for great destruction if the school, police station and pulpit are not reformed," he warned.

The incident

The first information report (FIR) of the incident, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, was registered at Tulamba police station on the complaint of police officer Munawwar Hussain under Sections 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon), 149 (unlawful assembly of people), 186 (obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions), 302 (intentional murder) and 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty) of the Pakistan Penal Code and Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act.

The FIR stated that when police officials reached the village, a man accused of burning the Holy Quran was found tied up with ropes and being subjected to violence by a large mob.

The FIR said the police tried to placate the crowd but to no avail, adding that the 33 identified suspects and around 200-300 others eventually killed the man after beating him with rods, sticks and bricks.

"The suspects hung his body from a tree which spread immense fear," the FIR said, adding that the body was recovered after much effort and taken for a postmortem examination.

The FIR said the police officers were also subjected to violence by the suspects due to which a sub-inspector suffered injuries and required medical treatment.

Subsequently, Chief Minister Buzdar issued directives that all requirements of justice must be met and said no one would be allowed to take the law into their own hands.

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