• Punjab police chief suspends Nankana DSP and SHO, orders inquiry
• PM asks why police didn’t stop mob, Tahir Ashrafi terms it ‘unIslamic’

LAHORE: A middle-aged man was lynched outside a police station in Nankana Sahib by a violent mob on Saturday over allegations of blasphemy, prompting the police chief to order an inquiry and suspend the Nankana DSP and relevant SHO.

Muhammad Waris, 45, of Nankana’s Qazi Town area, was first detained by locals over alleged desecration of the Holy Quran early in the morning, as per the police. Locals were planning to “hang the suspect” when police officials arrived on the scene and moved him to the local police station.

However, the mob, which continued to swell in number, followed the party to the police station and tried to take hold of the suspect. Officials locked Mr Waris inside the police station but the mob gathered outside the building and continued demanding custody of the accused.

Eventually, the enraged mob stormed the police station and entered its premises via its roof, and also managed to break down the front gate of the police station. Officials said the mob took away the suspect after breaking into the lock-up as police officials looked on.

Subsequently, the accused was taken out of the police station, where he was beaten to death by the unruly crowd. The mob wanted to set the body on fire, but police intervened and managed to take the corpse away.

A number of unverified videos were also circulating on social media in connection with the lynching incident. One video showed people scaling the gate of the police station and forcing their way through the gate. This video also showed a large number of people outside the building who had thronged the police station following allegations of blasphemy against the slain suspect. In another video, an enraged crowd was seen roaming inside the police station amid broken furniture and window panes that littered the scene.

Sheikhupura Regional Police Officer (RPO) Babar Saeed Alpa told Dawn that the victim was accused of “desecrating the Holy Quran and was held by locals at around 7:15 am on Saturday”. He said police took custody of the suspect but the crowd swelled and stormed the police station, later killing the man.

Speaking about the police response, the RPO said Police Lines was 28-30 kilometres away from the police station and it took 30-40 minutes for the backup to arrive. Mr Alpa said the department would investigate the failure of the officials who could not protect the accused from the mob.

According to the RPO, the victim was acquitted by a court in a blasphemy case in June 2022 and he was again accused of “desecrating the Holy Quran”. He said the wife of the victim had separated after filing a divorce case and the victim was involved in alleged witchcraft by “placing his wife’s pictures in the Holy Quran”.

However, he said it was the responsibility of police to protect the life of the victim, adding that a police party reached the spot after 30 minutes and stopped the mob from setting the body on fire.

‘DSP, SHO suspended’

The lynching prompted a statement from Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who ordered an investigation into the incident. “Why didn’t the police stop the violent mob? The rule of law should be ensured,” a statement quoted him as saying. PM Sharif said that ensuring peace was the prime responsibility of the institutions concerned.

Meanwhile, the Punjab Inspector General Police Dr Usman Anwar took notice of the incident and suspended Nankana Circle DSP Nawaz Virk and Warburton SHO Feroze Bhatti. He also sought a report from the RPO Sheikhupura region over the lynching. The IGP directed DIG Internal Accountability Branch (IAB) Ameen Bukhari and DIG special branch Raja Faisal to reach the spot and identify the perpetrators and submit a detailed report.

Prime Minister’s Special Representative for Interfaith Harmony Muhammad Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, who is also the chairman of Pakistan Ulema Council, termed the murder of the blasphemy suspect unconstitutional and unIslamic. In a video message, he urged the Punjab government to put the culprits involved in this heinous crime behind the bars and proposed that their trials should be conducted in the Anti-Terrorism Court.

89 killed over ‘blasphemy’

In January 2022, the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) in a report stated that as many as 89 citizens have been killed over 1,415 accusations and cases of blasphemy in the country since the 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.

Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2023

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