Police in Pakistan’s Punjab province said they have arrested all men accused in the killing of a 41-year-old man who they tied up, tortured and then stoned to death over allegations that he burned pages of the Quran inside a mosque.
Police in Khanewal city, where the incident occurred, said Wednesday they had arrested 38 prime suspects, Pakistan Today reported.
The victim, identified by police as Mushtaq Ahmed, who was reportedly mentally ill, was killed Saturday evening by an angry mob of about 300 people who snatched him from police officers, Voice of America said. Ahmed was pleading innocence while under attack.
The custodian of a local mosque told police he had seen Ahmed, a resident of Bara Chak village, desecrating the Quran inside the mosque in the Jungle Derawala area.
Police spokesman Chaudhry Imran said police rushed to the mosque and found the man surrounded by an angry crowd. He added that three officers tried to take custody of the victim, but the mob started throwing stones at them, seriously injuring one and wounding the other two.
Police said they quickly sent more officers to the mosque, but they arrived after the mob had stoned Ahmed to death and hanged his body from a tree.
Hundreds of area residents attended his funeral Sunday and offered their prayers at the mosque, Asia News reported.
Residents of Bara Chak village told reporters that Ahmed had been mentally unstable for the last 15 years and would sometimes go missing from home for days.
“Before the mental illness, he was a decent football player and of good character,” a village resident was quoted as saying.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan responded to the killing in a tweet. “We have zero tolerance for anyone taking the law into their own hands and mob lynching will be dealt with the full severity of the law,” he wrote.
In December, a mob in Punjab province beat to death a Sri Lankan man and burned his body over allegations of blasphemy.
Video clips shared on social media showed a mob, allegedly supporters of an Islamic party, beating the Sri Lankan, identified as Priyantha Kumara, a manager at a sports equipment factory in Sialkot city. The mob then set his body ablaze while some men took selfies with the burning corpse in the background.
Pakistan's stringent blasphemy law, embedded in Sections 295 and 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code, is frequently misused for personal revenge. It carries no provision to punish a false accuser or a false witness of blasphemy.
The law is also used by Islamist extremists to target religious minorities — Christians, Shi’as, Ahmadiyyas and Hindus.
The world’s attention was drawn to Pakistan’s blasphemy law after Christian mother of five, Asia Bibi, was sentenced to death and served over 10 years in prison before Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted her in 2018. Her acquittal drew the ire of radical extremist groups as many protested in the streets and threatened to kill the Supreme Court judges responsible.
In 2014, Christian couple Shehzad and Shamah Masih were burned to death in a brick kiln over false accusations they ripped pages from the Quran.