An angry mob on Saturday lynched a local cleric in Mardan after accusing him of blasphemy for comparing a political candidate to Islam’s Prophet during a police rally organized by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
The deceased, Nagar Alam, was attending the PTI’s rally “in support of the Supreme Court” when he referred to a local candidate, saying he was supporting him because he was as “pious as the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him).” This remark incensed the local crowd, which started to thrash him. Alam was initially saved by security forces, but as efforts were underway to reduce tensions, the mob renewed its attack on him, resulting in his killing.
Videos of the speech and subsequent lynching swiftly went viral on social media, with local police visible in the background as the accused is beaten to death by the angry mob. According to local media, police have started investigating the case to determine the identities of the assailants. Alam’s brother, Lal Johar, told media that police had already buried the body of the victim, adding that police were currently deployed outside his house to ensure the safety of the occupants.
In a statement on Twitter, caretaker Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Azam Khan said no one could be permitted to take the law into their own hands. He urged supporters of all political parties to keep rallies restricted to matters of politics and avoid giving religious color to political issues. The PTI, in recent months, has been accused by critics of “weaponizing” religion, with observers often pointing to a rally from last year in which one of the party’s leaders can be heard urging Chairman Imran Khan to give an “Islamic touch” to his speech to boost the crowd.
Pakistan has an unfortunate history of blasphemy-linked mob lynchings. Observers say victims—usually of minority religions—are often falsely implicated, but there has been a growing trend of Muslims being accused of blasphemy and subsequently murdered.
In 2017, Abdul Wali Khan University of Mardan student Mashal Khan was lynched by his class-fellows and other individuals for alleged blasphemy, with a subsequent police investigation finding he had committed no religious offense. In total, 61 people, including 13 university officials, were arrested for the murder, with the main accused being sentenced to death by a trial court. However, the Peshawar High Court commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment on an appeal in November 2020. Mashal’s father filed an appeal against the commuted sentence before the Supreme Court, which is still pending.
Earlier this year, a Chinese national was accused of insulting Islam in Kohistan and was subsequently taken into custody. He was granted bail after a local court found no evidence of any blasphemy. Two years prior, on Dec. 3, 2021, Sri Lankan national Priyantha Kumar was killed in Sialkot for removing stickers off a factory wall.
There have been growing calls for the reform or outright repeal of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, but religious bodies argue against it, claiming that there would be a greater number of lynching cases if a law did not exist to “punish” those accused of blasphemy.