An angry crowd stoned a middle-aged man to death for allegedly desecrating the Quran in a remote village in eastern Pakistan, police said on Sunday.
The custodian of a local mosque said he saw the man burning the Muslim holy book inside the mosque on Saturday night and told others before reporting it to police, according to police spokesman Chaudhry Imran.
The acts of violence took place in a village in the district of Khanewal in the province of Punjab. Imran said police rushed to the scene, where they found a man surrounded by an angry crowd.
The custodian of a local mosque accused the victim of burning the Quran
Officer Mohammad Iqbal and two subordinates attempted to take custody of the man, but the group began throwing stones at them, seriously injuring Iqbal and slightly injuring the other two officers.
Munawar Gujjar, head of the Tulamba police station, said he sent reinforcements to the mosque, but they did not arrive before the mob stoned the man to death and hung his body from a tree.
Gujjar said the victim was identified as Mushtaq Ahmed, 41, from a nearby town. “The deceased has been mentally unstable for the last 15 years and, according to his family, he would often disappear from his house for days begging and eating whatever he found,” he said. He added that the body has been handed over to the family.
Mian Mohammad Ramzan, the mosque’s custodian, said he saw smoke inside the mosque, which is next to his house, and rushed to investigate. He found a burned Quran and saw a man trying to burn another one. He said that people were beginning to arrive for evening prayers as he yelled at the man to stop.
80 detainees and more than 300 suspects
Eyewitnesses explained that a police team that arrived in the village before the stoning began took custody of a man, but the mob snatched him away and beat the police as they tried to rescue him. Later, more officers and bailiffs arrived at the scene and took charge of the body.
Gujjar, the area’s police chief, said investigators were scanning available video to try to identify the assailants. for now, Police have arrested about 80 men who lived around the mosque, but about 300 suspects were involved.
Prime Minister Imran Khan vows zero-tolerance against lynchings
Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed his anguish over the incident, saying he was seeking a report from the Punjab chief minister on the police handling of the case. He admitted that they “failed in his duty.” “We have zero tolerance for anyone taking justice into his own hands and mob lynchings will be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law,” he said in a tweet hours after the incident. Khan also asked the Punjab police chief for a report on the actions taken against the perpetrators of the lynching.
Blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan.
The killing comes months after the December 3 lynching of a Sri Lankan manager of a sporting goods factory in Sialkot, Punjab province, who was accused by workers of blasphemy.
Mob attacks on people accused of blasphemy are common in this conservative Islamic nation. International and domestic rights groups say accusations of blasphemy have often been used to intimidate religious minorities and settle personal scores. Blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan.