An angry mob has stoned to death a mentally ill man in eastern Pakistan over allegations of blasphemy, police said Sunday.
The violence took place a day earlier in a remote village in the district of Khanewal in Punjab province.
What did the man allegedly do?
The custodian of the village mosque told police he saw smoke inside the mosque, which is adjacent to his home, and rushed over to investigate.
He found one copy of the Quran — Islam’s holy book — burned and saw a man attempting to burn another.
He said people were starting to arrive for evening prayers as he shouted for the man to stop.
Witnesses said a police team then reached the village and began to take the man into custody before the mob snatched him away.
What did the mob do next?
The crowd began throwing stones at the man and the officers, according to the local police.
The mob, which included some 300 people, then hanged his body from a tree. Videos shared on social media showed a large crowd gathered at the site.
Three officers were injured during the attack, police said. More officers and constables arrived at the scene later and took control, allowing for the body to be transported to a hospital for an autopsy.
What will happen now?
A spokesperson for the local police told Germany’s DPA news agency that they were in the process of arresting those who took part in the lynching.
Munawar Gujjar, the area police chief, said investigators were scanning available videos to try to identify the assailants.
He said some 36 have so far been detained.
Gujjar said the victim was identified as Mushtaq Ahmed, 41, of a nearby village.
“The ill-fated man has been mentally unstable for the last 15 years and according to his family often went missing from home for days begging and eating whatever he could find,” he said.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has condemned the violence and said he was seeking a report from Punjab’s chief minister on the police handling of the case.
“We have zero tolerance for anyone taking the law into their own hands and mob lynching will be dealt with with the full severity of the law,” he said in a tweet.
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What is the official stance on blasphemy in Pakistan?
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan and laws prohibiting it can carry a potential death sentence.
Last month, a woman was sentenced to death after being convicted of sending a blasphemous text message and caricatures of Prophet Muhammad via WhatsApp.
Up to 80 people are known to be in jail on blasphemy charges — half of whom face life in prison or the death penalty — according to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Mob attacks on people accused of blasphemy are also common, and those accused can become the targets of extremist Muslim vigilante groups.
In some cases, they have been gunned down, burned alive or bludgeoned to death.
While most cases involve Muslims accusing fellow Muslims, rights activists have warned that religious minorities are often caught in the crossfire. They say blasphemy accusations have often been used to settle personal scores.
In December, a mob lynched the Sri Lankan manager of a sporting goods factory in Sialkot in Punjab, who was accused by workers of blasphemy.
mm/dj (AP, dpa)