Mian Mohammad Ramzan (centre), the mosque custodian, briefs police officers about the lynching in Tulamba, a small town in Khanewal district.—AP
Mian Mohammad Ramzan (centre), the mosque custodian, briefs police officers about the lynching in Tulamba, a small town in Khanewal district.—AP

• Victim buried at local graveyard
• PM orders zero tolerance, report submitted to Buzdar
• Minister seeks action against police; opposition condemns incident

LAHORE: A day after the lynching of a ‘mentally ill’ man in a Khanewal village, Prime Minister Imran Khan directed the authorities to adopt ‘zero tolerance’ against the vigilantes and to take action against officials ‘who failed in their duty’, with the result that 85 suspects were detained in more than 120 raids till Sunday evening.

A similar incident was reported from Faisalabad during the day. However, police managed to save the life of the suspect held by an unruly mob.

The Khanewal tragedy, which came as a grim reminder of the Sialkot lynching, drew condemnation from the government as well as opposition parties that believed the gruesome incident humiliated the entire nation.

Special Representative of the Prime Minister on Religious Harmony Allama Tahir Ashrafi rushed to Khanewal where he addressed a presser to publicly condemn the incident, while local police on Sunday afternoon claimed to have registered another FIR for alleged blasphemy under Section 295-B of Pakistan Penal Code besides the one related to the lynching under Sections 302, 353, 186, 148, 149 of the PPC and Section 7A of Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997.

Talking to Dawn after the funeral and burial in Mian Channu, the elder brother of the deceased said he had been mentally ill for 17 to 18 years and living with another brother in Karachi until last month when he returned to the village. He had remained hospitalised for years but could not recover, he said, adding that his wife had got divorce over the same issue though they had two sons and a daughter to look after.

“Last day he went to buy some cigarettes and did not turn up till evening and they later learned that he was killed on blasphemy charges,” he said, claiming that area residents knew about his mental condition. He said the mob had stoned his brother to death in the presence of police, yet no efforts had been made to protect him. He also complained that his brother’s fingers were missing after the ghastly incident.

Mohammad Ramzan, the complainant in the blasphemy case that police claimed had been registered a day ago, said two men, Azhar Abbas and Mukhtiar Hussain, rushed to Shah Muqeem mosque on seeing smoke emitting from there and found an unidentified person setting fire to the Holy Quran. He said people started gathering there and demanded action against him. The Tulamba police said a caller from Jungle Derawala on told them on Saturday evening that they had caught a man who had torn some pages of Holy Quran in a mosque. A police team rushed to the spot and took the suspect into custody. However, hundreds of people who had gathered there managed to get hold of the suspect and started hurling stones and bricks at him. The mob later tied the man with a tree and stoned him to death. By the time the heavy police contingent reached, the suspect had died. They shifted his body to hospital for a post-mortem examination. The body was later handed over to the family for burial.

While taking notice of the incident, Prime Minister Khan sought a report from the Punjab police chief and directed the relevant authorities to adopt zero tolerance against those involved in taking law into their hands and the police officials who failed in their duty.

However, no action was taken against any official of the Tulamba police station.

The incident was “condemnable and should not go unpunished”, said Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari. “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 tweeted.

A preliminary report of the incident submitted by Inspector General of Police Rao Sardar Ali Khan to Punjab Chief Minis­ter Usman Buzdar on Sunday said a case was registered against 33 suspects and 300 unidentified persons.

The report informed CM Buzdar that the police conducted more than 120 raids at various locations and detained 85 suspects, including 15 main suspects, after their identification with the help of different video clips. Those arrested were identified as Mohammad Yaqoob, Kashif, Riaz, Saqlain, Shaan, Asif, Nadeem, Qaiser Nazir, Abdul Ghani, Aslam, Aamir, Ijaz, Mehboobur Rehman, Bilal and Ali Sher, while more raids were under way. It said forensic analysis of the footage would help in determining the role of the culprits.

Soon after his arrival at Khanewal Circuit House, the PM’s special representative, Allama Ashrafi, told a presser that no one should think about taking law into his hand. “Our forefathers had played their role in devising the constitution of the country,” he said, asserting that there were laws for protection of religion and against blasphemy. He said such matters should be reported to police and legal procedure be followed.

While strongly condemning the incident, the PM’s special representative appealed to Chief Justice of Pakistan Umer Ata Bandial to conduct speedy trial of all religious and blasphemy cases. He said there was consensus that strict action must be taken against those involved in the murder of the mentally ill person. Efforts were being made to arrest the suspects and action would also be taken against the policemen for negligence, he added.

He told the media that all the ulema accompanying him would visit the aggrieved family for expressing condolence. He said the entire world was pointing fingers at Pakistan owing to such incidents, which did not happen in rest of the 56 Muslim countries. It was the responsibility of religious leaders, the media and the administration to speak with one voice against such incidents, just as they had done after the lunching of Sri Lankan national in Sialkot.

“The tragedy of Mian Channu has once again humiliated the entire nation,” said Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari while condemning the lynching. Events like the Mian Channu incident after the Sialkot tragedy were a question mark on the government’s writ and a moment of reflection, he said.

The PPP chairman demanded the government conduct a transparent investigation into this tragedy and those responsible be punished. He said Pakistan’s image in the international community was being damaged due to these massacres by mobs at public places. He said if angry mobs were left unchecked, the whole society would become insecure.

All the stakeholders must come together on one page to stop the menace, he said, adding that if the rule of law was not ensured, an unstoppable tradition of taking the law into one’s own hands would be set.

Former premier and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, too, condemned the killing and said the growing number of such incidents was not just shameful, but also worrying and disturbing. There was a dire need to formulate a comprehensive strategy to prevent such incidents, he said.

Aamir Yasin from Islamabad also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2022

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