Pakistan: No justice for man burned to death for blasphemy

No arrests have emerged since the July 5 incident in Chani Ghot, in the South Punjab region of Pakistan, where a Muslim man was burned to death by a mob of 1000 men for supposed violations of the Islamic faith. Ghulam Abbas, who has been variously described as a man in his 40s and possibly mentally ill, was arrested and taken into custody by local police for alleged blasphemy. When local Muslim religious leaders denounced him from loudspeakers throughout the town, an enraged mob of mostly Muslim men stormed the police station where he was held, attacked and injured police officers on the scene, and seized the hapless Abbas.

As reported earlier by Spero, as well as other news agencies, the mob beat Abbas on the street and doused him with gasoline, setting him alight. A police officer on the scene averred that Abbas was still alive when he became a human torch, unlike reports made of the incident by Al Jazeera.

Pakistan non-governmental organizations, Christian groups, and others have denounced the outrage. Pakistani President Ali Zardari has ordered an investigation of the incident, following the incident. Now, ten days after Abbas' immolation, Fides news service reports the disappointment of Christians and other threatened minorities in Pakistan. According to Fides, a source noted that the absence of action by the Pakistani government may threaten to "endorse the summary justice", and a sense of "impunity" for those who "make their own justice."

Non-governmental groups have denounced the silence of the Punjab government and apparent impotence on the part of police. According to Sarfraz Clement, a Christian who coordinates Action Against Poverty'(AAP), "it is shocking that the police have not arrested even one person." Mustaq Gill, a Christian pastor and president of Legal Evangelical Association, reportedly said, "In this crime some influential radical Islamic organizations are involved and is therefore very difficult for the authorities to proceed against them. In addition, the act was committed by an angry mob and it is difficult to identify a single culprit. In other cases, mass violence such as these have remained unpunished."

Mob lynching of alleged blasphemers in Muslim Pakistan is nothing new.  Recently in Faisalabad (in Punjab), the police rescued a man accused of blasphemy and beaten by a mob instigated by the Islamist Dawat Tehreek-e-Islami organization. In June 2012, in Baluchistan, a Muslim mob stormed in a police station in Quetta and was intent on stoning a man to death accused blasphemy. The police responded with tear gas and gunfire to restore order, with the result that two children were killed. In Karachi, a Muslim man, accused of blasphemy, in prison because of drugs, has repeatedly risked being killed by other Muslim inmates. The police have put him in insolation as a protective measure. 

Christians are not immune from accusations of blasphemy even though they do not share the tenets of Islam. As dhimmi, or tolerated minorities, Christians have been jailed and executed for blasphemy. Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, has been imprisoned for more than a year in Pakistan and awaits a death sentence for supposed blasphemy.

Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.


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