Punjab Inspector General of Police Dr Usman Anwar on Saturday suspended two senior cops for failing to prevent the mob lynching of a man over blasphemy allegations in Nankana Sahib, a Punjab Police statement said.
The IG took notice of the killing of a person accused of “desecrating the Quran”, as videos circulating on social media purportedly showed a violent mob outside a police station in Nankana Sahib.
In one video, the mob can be seen scaling the large gates of what appeared to be the Warburton Police Station, and opening it, after which the rowdy crowd outside storms the building.
A second video showed young children — purportedly part of the mob — smiling inside the police station, as broken glass and overturned furniture could be seen strewn about.
The police statement said the IG, Anwar, has suspended Nankana Sahib Circle Deputy Superintendent of Police Nawaz Waraq and Warburton Station House Officer Feroz Bhatti.
The IG further directed the Internal Accountability Branch Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Syed Muhammad Amin Bukhari and Special Branch DIG Raja Faisal to reach the incident location and submit an inquiry report.
“No one is allowed to take the law into their hands no matter how influential they are,” the Punjab IG was quoted as saying.
“Strict departmental and legal action will be taken against those responsible for the incident, as well as the perpetrators of negligence and incompetence,” the IG asserted.
A first information report about the incident has not been registered as of yet.
PM Shehbaz orders investigation
Taking notice of the incident, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif ordered an investigation.
“Why didn’t the police stop the violent mob? The rule of law should be ensured. No one should be allowed to influence the law,” he was quoted as saying by a press release from the Prime Minister’s Office.
PM Shehbaz said that ensuring peace and order was the first priority for the relevant institutions responsible for that duty.
Federal Minister for Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety Shazia Marri said the incident was part of a “sad and dangerous trend that continues to haunt our society!”
“Need to counter with an effective narrative to achieve peace and harmony. We must learn to coexist and be tolerant. Pakistan was founded on strong principles that allowed everyone to live freely,” she said.
PTI Vice President and former information minister Fawad Chaudhry said the incident showed the state machinery’s collapse.
“[I] wish [the] government shows 50 per cent [of the] will to deal with religious fanatics as they deal with political opponents,” he said.
Meanwhile, Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) Chairman Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi condemned the incident, saying it was regrettable the way the charged mob attacked the blasphemy accused.
“Inhuman torture and killing the person, accused of blaspheming the Holy Quran in Nankana Sahib and attacking at the police station is regrettable and condemnable. — Pakistan Ulema Council,” Ashrafi said in a tweet.
89 killed over blasphemy allegations since 1947
In February 2022, a middle-aged man was stoned to death by a mob over the alleged desecration of the Holy Quran in a remote village of Khanewal district.
The killing had come on the heels of an identical incident in Sialkot, where a Sri Lankan engineer was lynched by factory workers on Dec 3, 2021, on blasphemy charges.
In January 2022, the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) in a report stated that as many as 89 citizens were killed in 1,415 accusations and cases of blasphemy in the country since independence. The report said that from 1947 to 2021, 18 women and 71 men were extra-judicially killed over blasphemy accusations. The allegations were made against 107 women and 1,308 men.
Out of the total, 1,287 citizens were accused of committing blasphemy from 2011- 21. “The actual number is believed to be higher because not all blasphemy cases get reported in the press,” the report had said, adding more than 70 per cent of the accused were reported from Punjab.
The report had said misuse of blasphemy laws is often described by courts as an unlawful act. It had said the Islamabad High Court had previously suggested to the legislature to amend the existing laws to give equal punishment to those who level false blasphemy accusations.
The report had said the origin of the blasphemy laws dated back to the British era when these were promulgated in 1860.
Initially, four blasphemy laws — section 295, 296, 297 and 298 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) — were introduced and in 1927 section 295 was supplemented by 295A after the case of Ilmuddin, a Muslim carpenter, who killed Mahashe Rajpal for publishing a blasphemous book.
Additional reporting by Sanaullah Khan.