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Blasphemy lynching scares Pakistani Christians

From 1985 to 2022, at least 86 people were killed in mob attacks for alleged blasphemy

Muslim cleric Nigar Alam (center) was killed by a mob for alleged blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad in Mardan of Pakistan on May 6

Muslim cleric Nigar Alam (center) was killed by a mob for alleged blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad in Mardan of Pakistan on May 6. (Photo: Screengrab)

Published: May 08, 2023 11:27 AM GMT

Updated: May 09, 2023 04:17 AM GMT

A mob in Pakistan lynched a Muslim cleric for allegedly committing blasphemy by defaming Prophet Muhammad on the 25th death anniversary of Catholic Bishop John Joseph who killed himself protesting controversial blasphemy law.

Nigar Alam, 40, was beaten to death on May 6 after he made a speech during a political rally in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

He reportedly said he respected a local administrator as much as Prophet Muhammad, enraging a crowd in Sawal Dher village of Mardan, police said.

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The police initially managed to bring Alam to safety in a nearby shop, but the crowd forcibly dragged him out after breaking the door and beat him to death.

The killing took place on the same day when Bishop Indrias Rehmat of Faisalabad distributed shields among 25 associates of Bishop Joseph, the former bishop of the diocese, as an act of honor.

Bishop Joseph shot himself on May 6, 1998, in front of a court in Sahiwal after a Christian, Ayub Masih, was sentenced to death for allegedly insulting the founder of Islam.

In 2002, the Supreme Court overturned Masih’s conviction and released him.

Blasphemy is a serious criminal offense in the Muslim-majority nation, Pakistan law confers a death sentence for insulting Prophet Muhammad.

In the past decades, hundreds of people including Christians and members of other minority groups have been charged with blasphemy and some have been sentenced to death. However, no one has been executed.

There have been a series of mob attacks on people accused of blasphemy and even lynchings.

Church leaders and human rights groups say that blasphemy laws are dangerous, and most accusers use these claims to settle personal disputes and intimidate religious minorities.

On Sunday, Bishop Rehmat joined priests and human rights activists in showering petals at the gate of the Sahiwal court and singing Psalm 62. Bishop Joseph killed himself in front of this court.

“Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken,” stated the banner they carried, emblazoned with the photo of the late bishop.

Father Khalid Rashid Asi, director of the Diocesan Commission for Harmony and Interfaith Dialogue in the Faisalabad diocese, condemned the second lynching this year.

In February, a religiously charged mob entered Warburton police station, dragged a person out and burned him to death in the Nankana Sahib district of Punjab province.

“Our community is scared. We have no chance when even a Muslim religious leader is not safe" in the Muslim-majority nation, he said.

“The misuse of blasphemy laws has become a serious issue. The mobs pass judgment and execute the accused. Questions are being raised on media since the weekend as the Muslims are slowly realizing that this is wrong.”

Pastor Shahzad Murad, the vicar of All Saints Church in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial capital Peshawar, reflected on the psychological impact of the lynchings.

“The trauma cannot be explained. We have become silent. Death roams freely as we try to deal with economic and political crises. Lawlessness is increasing. We feel insecure in our own country,” he told UCA News.  

Amir Mehmood, who handles communications for the Muslim minority Ahmadi sect, said hate speech against other religions encourages mob attacks.

“Nine places of worship have been raided in Punjab and Sindh provinces. No one was arrested. Such policies are increasing extremism in our scattered society. No one is safe. The state should work on an emergency basis to revive moral values and give a clear message to reject the extremist groups,” he said.  

From 1985 to 2022, at least 86 people were killed for alleged blasphemy-related crimes, which is more than two people each year, published records show.

The victims include 50 Muslims, 25 Christians, seven Ahmadiyya people, one Hindu, one Buddhist, and two other persons whose religious identity was unknown.


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