Police in eastern Pakistan said Sunday they had taken into custody dozens of suspects in connection with mob lynching of a mentally unstable middle-aged man who was accused of burning Islam’s holy book, the Quran.
The arrests came a day after the incident took place in the district of Khanewal in Punjab province, where police said an angry crowd of about 300 people assaulted the alleged blasphemer with bricks and iron rods before hanging his body on a tree.
Police identified the victim as 41-year-old Mushtaq Ahmed, who was reportedly professing his innocence while under attack.
Local media quoted eyewitnesses as saying that police had reached the village and briefly took Ahmed into custody on blasphemy charges before the mob snatched him away and subsequently killed him.
Prime Minister Imran Khan pledged to bring to justice those responsible.
“We have zero tolerance for anyone taking the law into their own hands & mob lynchings will be dealt with full severity of the law,” Khan tweeted.
The prime minister said he had sought a report from the provincial authorities on the action taken against “perpetrators of the lynching and against the police who failed in their duty.”
The custodian of a local mosque informed villagers and area police that he had seen Ahmed desecrating the Quran inside the mosque, according to a police statement.
Police said they have rounded up more than 80 people under anti-terrorism laws while raids were being conducted based on scanning of social media video footage of the incident to identify and arrest other suspects.
Saturday’s mob killing comes nearly two months after the lynching of a Sri Lankan manager of a sporting goods factory in Sialkot, an industrial city in Punjab. His workers had accused him of blasphemy.
Mob attacks on alleged blasphemers are common, but the attack on the Sri Lankan national was the first such incident involving a foreigner.
Blasphemy is a highly sensitive matter in predominantly Muslim Pakistan and carries the death penalty under local laws, although no convict has been executed to date as lower court convictions are usually overturned by the higher judiciary.
Critics have long called for reforming the laws, saying they are often used by influential members of society and religious fanatics to falsely accuse opponents to settle personal feuds and intimidate Pakistan’s religious minorities.
Source: Voice of America