By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
ISLAMABAD (Worthy News) – Pakistani police on Monday had detained dozens of suspects in the weekend lynching of a man accused of blasphemy against Islam, but a Christian rights activist warned of more violence.
Khalid Shazad, a Christian defending persecuted people, spoke after video footage obtained by Worthy News showed an angry crowd dragging a naked, bleeding man through the streets of Warburton town.
Several men attacked him with metal objects while others shouted. Authorities said the mob stormed a Warburton police station Saturday to attack the man for allegedly desecrating the Koran, seen as a holy book by Muslims.
The victim, identified as Waris Issa, was then stripped naked, taken to the streets, and beaten to death, several sources confirmed.
It was unclear from the footage viewed by Worthy News whether Issa was still conscious during that particular recording of this incident, but he was clearly mistreated.
Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif acknowledged that the police should have done more to stop the mob. “The rule of law should be ensured. No one should be allowed to influence the law,” he said.
Punjab’s Nankana district police chief, Babar Sarfraz Alpa, said the mob claimed the man put images of himself, his wife, and a knife on pages of the Koran, displaying and throwing the book in the streets. Other sources said the couple had been separated, and the incident happened in a family dispute.
As investigations continued, Inspector General of Police Usman Anwar suspended two police officers following the incident. “No one is allowed to take the law into his hands, no matter how influential he is. Therefore strict departmental and legal action will be taken against those responsible for the incident and the perpetrators of negligence and professional misconduct,” Anwar said in published remarks.
The leader of a Muslim umbrella group representing Islamic clerics also condemned the lynching. And on Monday, officials confirmed that police had taken at least 50 suspects in custody.
However, Shazad, hiding after receiving threats, told Worthy News that authorities often seem reluctant or unwilling to intervene in time. He said “a similar murder over blasphemy happened in Shakargarh city” in the north-east of Narowal District of Punjab, though details remained sketchy.
On December 6, 2021, a Sri Lankan Hindu manager was burnt alive in a factory in Sialkot, Pakistan, after being tortured for allegedly insulting the Holy Koran,” he also recalled.
The Pakistani Centre for Research and Security Studies estimates that at least 89 people have been killed over blasphemy allegations since 1947. However, the actual figure is believed to be higher.
And Shazad said Saturday’s incident put additional pressure on minorities, including Christians, following similar attacks in recent weeks. “After this incident, the minorities have started to feel insecure and scared,” he added.
CHRISTIAN SHOT DEAD
Saturday’s lynching came just days after a Muslim landowner and others beat a Catholic farm laborer to death, claiming he had stolen oranges from his orchard, the victim’s family said.
The February 6 killing followed the shooting death last month of another Christian in Pakistan after he stopped Muslims from stealing from his guava crop, according to Christians.
In Punjab Province’s Khanewal District, landlord Rana Muhammad Waseem and five others beat Emmanuel Masih, 48, to death early February 6, Christians said.
Masih was attacked while irrigating his employer’s fields in Chak Number 139/10R village, despite maintaining his innocence, said his nephew, Zahid Sahotra. “He was very hard-working and honest, and police found no evidence from the crime scene that suggested that he had committed any theft,” he told Morning Star News agency. Some 35 Christian families in the village are reportedly poor laborers who work for Muslim landowners.
The impoverished laborer was the only breadwinner for his wife and six children, Sahotra said. Also in Punjab Province, in Okara District’s Renala village, 55-year-old Catholic Allah Ditta was shot and killed by Muslims on January 11 after objecting to their stealing fruit from his orchard, family members said.
The victim’s son, Shahbaz Masih, explained that when his father confronted Muhammad Intizar, Muhammad Awais, and one identified only as Usama, the trio allegedly called him a “chuhra,” a pejorative label for Christians with “no chance at justice” even if they killed him. Masih said they then shot his father in the chest, killing him instantly.
Despite death threats, the family informed the police, who detained Intizar, while Awais and Usama reportedly remained at large.
“Usama’s father is a retired army officer, and he offered us 500,000 rupees (US$1,810) as blood money to drop the charges against his son,” Masih said. “We have rejected his offer because we want justice for our slain father.”
Ditta’s wife, Josephine Bibi, said the family struggled with day-to-day expenses since her husband was killed.
There was also concern late Sunday about the security of Ishtiaq Saleem, a young man arrested for “desecrating Islam and hurting the sentiments of Muslims” by sharing “insulting material” about Islam’s prophet.
The allegations emerged from a video posted on social media, but his family claims the Christian is “innocent and illiterate, unable to understand,” Worthy News learned.
The married father with a two-year-old son worked as a sanitation laborer and had not been paid for four months, said his father, Salim Masih. Other Christian sanitation workers reported similar mistreatment.
His family says he was targeted for his faith and appealed for help from the Christian community. If convicted of blasphemy, he could potentially face the death penalty or at least lengthy prison terms under Pakistan’s strict anti-blasphemy legislation.
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