PAKISTAN: Attempted lynching to dislodge Hindu business

Mob violence continues to grab national headlines; most recently, a mob of some 500 persons gathered outside a police station in Balochistan, demanding that Hindu trader Prakash Kumar, arrested on blasphemy charges, be released so they could publicly lynch him. When police refused, the mob opened fire and started beating police officers, resulting in the death of a 10-year-old boy. Three police officers were injured, as were one other man and one child.

While the mob was led by religious clerics and members of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League party, it is alleged that the incident was initiated by the traders and workers of political and nationalist parties in Hub, Lasbella district of Balochistan. The aim was to dislodge Hindu businessmen from the district, who hold 40 percent of the area’s business.  — video of attempted lynching

This is the third major vigilante attack on persons accused of blasphemy in the country, in less than 30 days. Earlier, journalism student Mashal Khan was brutally beaten to death at a university in KP province, followed by the attempted lynching of a mentally disabled man in Chitral. 

Lynching being a norm in Pakistan underscores the failure of the state to ensure rule of law, failure of judiciary to dispense justice and failure of law enforcement to apprehend the guilty. The apathetic attitude of the state provokes an already dissatisfied mob, seeing it as an ideal moment to vent its anger and frustration on the poor accused. This is clearly seen from the fact that although Prakash was detained in the police station, the mob still demanded that he be handed over to them so that “justice” could be done.

This is particularly dangerous in blasphemy accusations, which are largely found to be baseless, based on vendettas and opportunities for financial gain. In February 2015, the Punjab Prosecution Department and provincial judiciary announced that they had reviewed 262 blasphemy cases awaiting trial and recommended that 50 be reviewed for dismissal because the accused had been victimized by complainants. As per official data, 1274 people have been charged under the stringent blasphemy laws of Pakistan between 1986 until 2010. Since 1990, 65 people have been extrajudicially killed on allegations of committing blasphemy, with no punishment of the perpetrators.

Even if the culprits are detained, angry mobs demand their release, as they have performed their religious duty as Muslims, and killed an infidel. This was seen in the violent protests at the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin of Governor Salman Taseer. Qadri’s grave has been turned into a mausoleum that receives thousands of devotees daily, vowing to carry out the “mission of the great martyr”. It is reported that several ruling party legislators also attended Qadri’s first death anniversary, celebrated in his home town.

Government officials and politicians in Pakistan are tragically just as zealous and disoriented as the masses. Chief minister of Khyber Pakhtun Khwa Province, Mr. Pervez Khattak, in his statement at the provincial assembly in the Mashal Khan murder case said, “I will cut the tongue and eyes of those who want to amend the blasphemy law.”

While Jamat e Islami, the religious political party of Pakistan, rejected Mr. Khattak’s statement and distanced themselves from him, they still urged the authorities to release those arrested in Mashal Khan’s murder.

Similarly, while Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazal) chief Maulana Fazalur Rehman, condemned Khan’s lynching, he also said he was well aware that liberal forces would use this incident to call for amending the law, but ‘no one would be allowed to do so’.

Soon after Mashal’s lynching, the legislative assembly of Pakistan-administered Kashmir passed two resolutions regarding the finality of Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him) and respect of his family and companions. The resolution also stated that if Ahmadis claim themselves to be Muslims, they should be charged with blasphemy. The portrayal of minorities as enemies of Pakistan thus stokes pre-existing societal tensions and creates a negative climate for Pakistan’s religious minority communities.

Religious intolerance is ingrained in the collective conscience of the Pakistani people. The state patronizes and even encourages hate crimes in the state curriculum, thus instigating young minds to violence and religious bigotry. In early 2016, USCIRF released a new report, “Teaching Intolerance in Pakistan: Religious Bias in Public Textbooks,” a follow-up to its 2011 study, “Connecting the Dots: Education and Religious Discrimination in Pakistan.” The 2016 report found that while 16 problematic text-book passages outlined in the 2011 report were removed, 70 new intolerant or biased passages were added.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) condemns the deplorable mob violence, and urges the state to deem it an act of terrorism, with stringent punishment meted out to those found involved. It is high time that the government should rethink its priorities and rescind all discriminatory laws and provision from the legal framework. The fire of religious and sectarian hatred must be put out before it eats up the entire nation.