Prime Minister Imran Khan issued a statement condemning the lynching of a man in Khanewal on allegations of blasphemy, stating that both the perpetrators of the crime and the policemen who failed to do their job would be held accountable.
“We have zero tolerance for anyone taking the law into their own hands [and] mob lynchings will be dealt with full severity of the law,” the prime minister said in a statement on Sunday. “Have asked Punjab IG [Inspector General of Police] for report on action taken against perpetrators of the lynching in Mian Channu [and] against the police who failed in their duty.”
Police have opened a terrorism case against 300 people, including 33 as nominated accused. By Sunday, police had arrested 85 suspects, including 15 key suspects, relying on video footage of the incident to identify the perpetrators.
On Saturday, a middle aged-man was pelted with 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.
According to family members, the deceased, Mushtaq Rajput, had been suffering from mental illness and was receiving treatment from a retired army doctor.
Leader of the Opposition Shehbaz Sharif termed the incident ‘bone-chilling’ and called for a public dialogue to help usher in a ‘process of de-deradicalization.’
Since the country’s foundation, at least 89 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. This incident comes just 10-weeks after a the lynching of Sri Lankan factory manager Priyantha Diyawadanage in Sialkot.