At least 102 people, including 21 prime suspects, have been arrested by police for the lynching of a mentally-ill man accused of blasphemy in a rural village in Khanewal.
Punjab Police opened a case against 300 people in the small village in Mian Channu, Khanewal, including 33 prime suspects in total, in relation to the public lynching on Saturday. Police reported that they were conducting raids to arrest the accused, and relying on video footage of the incident for identification purposes.
The deceased was described by his brother as a middle-aged man suffering from mental illness. His brother told Dawn that the man had been living in Karachi until last month, and had been hospitalized at various points throughout his 17 year battle with mental illness.
“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,” the brother is quoted as saying.
The Government of Punjab released the names of 15 of the main suspects who have so far been identified and arrested.
On Saturday, the middle-aged-man was pelted with stones and bricks by a violent mob until he died, his body then strung to a a tree, after announcements following Maghrib prayers in a village in Khanewal district alleged that someone had torn pages from the Holy Quran and set them alight. Police had moved in to arrest the man, and held him in custody briefly, but the village mob overcame the police to exert their own form of justice, as police reportedly stood by and failed to intervene.
Since the country’s foundation, at least 90 people accused of blasphemy have been extrajudicially murdered, the majority of the incidents occurring in Punjab. According to a report by the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) in Islamabad, in 2021 five people were murdered on allegations of committing blasphemy.