ASIA/PAKISTAN - Man lynched after accusation of blasphemy: an "influencer" campaign aims to promote rule of law and peace

Friday, 21 June 2024 human rights   blasphemy   religious fundamentalism  

Madyan (Agenzia Fides) - A violent mob lynched a man accused of insulting the Koran in the hilly town of Madyan, in the Swat district, in the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The man was a Pakistani citizen of Muslim faith, identified as Muhammad Ismail, a native of Punjab, who was in the northern province with his family for tourism purposes. Madyan is a tourist resort in the Swat Valley, about 250 km from the provincial capital Peshawar. The man, accused of committing blasphemy in a hotel, was arrested by the police yesterday, June 20, and taken to the police station to protect him from possible reprisals. This protection, however, was not sufficient. Incited by loudspeaker announcements in mosques and shopping centers, a violent mob gathered in front of the police station demanding the man's extradition. When the police refused, the crowd set the building on fire, forcing the police officers on duty to flee to save their own lives. The man was left helpless. After entering the police station, the militants lynched and killed the suspect and dragged the corpse to the public square, where the already mutilated body was then burnt, as can be seen in horrifying images on social media.
The subsequent arrival of additional police forces from other places then served to restore order. It is currently unknown whether any of the attackers have been arrested. The Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, Ali Amin Gangapur, regretted the incident and appealed to the population to remain peaceful. "This violence is madness, it is suicide for our society," commented Fawad Chaudhry, politician and former information minister. Extrajudicial attacks against people accused of blasphemy are a common occurrence in Pakistan, where accusations of blasphemy against Islam are punishable by life imprisonment or death. Civil society organizations and religious leaders affirm that blasphemy accusations are often false and misused in the context of private disputes. Last month, a mob in Pakistan's Punjab province attacked Nazir Masih, a 72-year-old Christian, after he was accused of desecrating pages of the Koran. The man later died of his injuries in hospital. In August 2023, following accusations of insulting the Koran, attacks occurred on the Christian quarter of the city of Jaranwala, where the mob set fire to 86 Christian homes and vandalized 19 Christian churches and places of worship. Catholic Senator Khalil Tahir Sandhu tells Fides: "We are shocked by another incident of mass violence. We believe that action must be taken. We are thinking of organizing an awareness campaign against lynching and mob violence. We have formed a team of leaders of civil society and religious communities and we want to involve government officials, scholars and Muslim religious leaders. In our meetings we came to a common conclusion: there is an urgent need for credible religious leaders and so-called 'influencers' who can jointly carry out a media campaign to combat the problem of mass violence and promote the importance of enforcing the law in all situations. We want to develop video messages and debates on peace, interfaith harmony and tolerance, involving religious leaders at the national level. We believe it is necessary to broadcast video messages on national and regional television, radio and social media". (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 21/6/2024)