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Pakistan is ruled by mob justice. And the authorities are too scared to do anything about it

The setting on fire of a man who had supposedly desecrated the Koran shows again that extremists are in charge

By on Friday, 13 July 2012

People in Karachi protest at the inadvertent burning of the Koran at a US military base (Photo: PA)

People in Karachi protest at the inadvertent burning of the Koran at a US military base (Photo: PA)

The abuse and killing of innocent Pakistanis because of the country’s ill-conceived blasphemy laws is something I am, as part of my work supporting persecuted Christians, confronted with on a regular basis. But the report of a mob dragging a man from a police station and setting him on fire because he had supposedly desecrated a Koran is staggering in its despicableness.

Like a pack of animals, a group of men broke into the police station in the Chani Ghoth area of Bahawalpur, in Punjab Province, and hauled Ghulam Abbas out on to the street, before dousing him in fuel and setting him alight. According to a report from the BBC World Service, crowds of people stood by and watched as Ghulam screamed for help.

Never mind the fact that Ghulam was reported to be mentally handicapped, nor the fact that he had only been accused of blasphemy – not found guilty – and that police had not even started their investigation into the allegation.

Even if Ghulam, a Muslim, had been found guilty of desecrating the Koran, he could not under Pakistani law have been sentenced to death, as the maximum sentence for this crime is life imprisonment.

This, I’m sorry to say, is the frightful reality for those who fall short of the lofty standards of righteousness imposed by extremists. Police may wear uniforms and courts may pass down their judgments, but let no one be in any doubt that when it comes to blasphemy, it is others who wield the power in this virtually lawless land.

Christians experienced this when extremists went on the rampage in Gojra in 2009 in full view of the police and burnt eight Christians to death, among them a child. The trigger was a blasphemy accusation.

While I am used to receiving calls from terrified Christians, what makes Ghulam’s case slightly more unusual is that he was a Muslim.

His brutal murder reveals the extent to which the blasphemy laws continue to be misused to harass and steal from innocent people. Most of the accusations are levelled against Christians, but Muslims are not immune and it takes brave men to exonerate the accused.

While that happens occasionally, more often than not the radicals start to heap pressure on to the police and on to the courts to uphold the blasphemy charges and imprison the accused – or even worse, sentence them to death.

Even when people are acquitted, they are not safe. They are released from prison only to enter a prison of another kind, forced into hiding because extremists are baying for their blood.

And behind it all are the radical preachers and imams, abusing their holy mosques and their loudspeakers, abusing the name of God and their own faith to call for hate and murder instead of love and forgiveness.

This is the world of mob justice, a world in which extremists deem the desecration of a book – albeit a holy book – an unforgivable crime but not the destruction of a human life made in the image of God. A world in which the criminals make politicians cower into looking the other way, while the innocent are locked up for years in miserable prison cells or brutally murdered while others stand by and watch, too afraid that they will share the same fate if they step in to help.

The murderous extremists have no respect for human life and no fear of the law because they have not been given any reason to. What is there to fear when, after the assassination of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, no politician will touch the blasphemy laws with a barge pole? Why fear when those who hound or kill people on the basis of blasphemy accusations are not made to feel the full force of the law for the “justice” they mete out to others?

It is interesting that July 5 – the day Ghulam Abbas was killed – was also the anniversary of the day that General Zia ul-Haq threw out Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s democratically elected government and imposed martial law. The general would later go on to impose a mandatory death sentence on insulting the Prophet Muhammad. The shadow his rule has cast over Pakistan is long and dark, and there is little sign of any will to break it among those with the power to do so.

The murder of Ghulam Abbas is one of the most horrific in recent years and yet there is only silence from the government and the authorities. Where are the statements of condemnation? Where are the public declarations vowing to catch the perpetrators and make them answer for their crimes? Where is the pledge from the government to review the blasphemy laws behind this and so many other callous and unjustified murders?

There should be no doubt after Ghulam Abbas’s death that extremists are taking things into their own hands in a way that should be stopped immediately. The laws of this land must be changed to end this lunacy.

The popular adage goes: “Where there is a will, there is a way.” But equally true is: where there is no will, there is no way. For now, the extremists and their “mob justice” are ruling the roost in Pakistan.

  • mollysdad

    This is one reason why I don’t really care how many Muslims die in drone strikes and other kindred incidents. A couple of helicopter gunships could easily deal with the mob in the photograph.

  • basudeb dey

    What kind of country is #Pakistan that doesn’t protect people even when they are in custody of law enforcement facing trial. No respect for human dignity and justice. #Minorities there are treated as 2nd class citizen and #Mullahs try to convert them to Islam by force.

  • aearon43

    Not to pile on but I found this today:

    I guess this is the “Arab Spring?”

  • TreenonPoet

    Why are Catholics stoking this fire? Where are the cries that belief in a deity is lunacy and that to wish upon anyone the pain of burning is sadistic? Catholics tell me that I deserve to suffer eternal fire for the crime of not having been duped by the Church, and if it was not for current English law, I think one or two of them might consider it their duty to facilitate God’s will in the manner of the medieval Inquisition.

    When you base your behaviour on made-up stuff, such as that there is an after-life and people must believe what you tell them to to be ‘saved’, anything can be ‘justified’.

    One of the steps towards improving the situation in Pakistan would be to help the rest of the world recognise the lunacy of religion. The Catholic Church is working hard to do the very opposite.

    Throughout my life I have observed governments behave as if they were the puppets of religious organisations rather than servants of the public. In Germany, Merkel’s support for the genital mutilation of defenceless children for religious reasons is one example. The attempt to retain the Lords Spritual in the Upper Chamber without offering one valid reason is a recent example in the UK.

    I seem to recall that, in his Munich speech, David Cameron went out of his way not to criticise Islam. He also expressed profound support for the pope during the 2010 papal visit. There are recent signs that he is at last starting to grow a backbone and no longer always proffering the automatic ‘respect’ often demanded by the religious, but until he reverses his policy on ‘faith’ schools he, too, remains complicit.

    The evil of religion is staring you in the face. While nothing is done about it, innocent people are suffering from it (and please don’t tell me that suffering is a good thing).

  • Laurence England

    Because atheism has brought the world so much peace…

  • cephas2

    TreenonPoet – go away. Your “Why are Catholics stoking this fire?” comment is unbelievable. Thank God for the Catholic Herald for telling the truth about what is happening in our world today.

  • TreenonPoet

     One might suppose that agnostic atheism would tend to encourage peace because of its rational basis, but rationality as regards the existence of deities does not ensure rationality in other matters. What is certain is that the irrational behaviour described by Naseer Saheed is religious. All harmful irrationality should be opposed.

  • Acleron


    Please point to the full article on the hounding of Sanal Edamaruku by the catholic church in India, I haven’t seen it in the Catholic Hearld 

    This is supposedly a case of blasphemy as well.