Less than three months after an irate mob stormed a police station in Pakistan and killed a man accused of blasphemy, a cleric has become the latest victim of a vigilante group in the Muslim-majority nation where laws criminalize speech or actions deemed insulting or disrespectful toward the Prophet Muhammad or the Quran.
The victim, identified as Maulana Nigar Alam, was beaten to death by an angry mob in Mardan district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on May 6.
The mob was part of a political rally expressing support for the judiciary.
Witnesses claimed Alam, a 40-year-old local imam, made a blasphemous reference in a prayer at the end of the rally, saying a certain political candidate was as “pious as the Prophet,” according to a May 7 article on the website of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The public-service broadcast, which claims to offer “a powerful alternative to extremist propaganda in Pakistan’s remote tribal regions along the border with Afghanistan,” reported that a student was killed in Mardan under similar circumstances in 2017.
According to witnesses, local police officer Iqbal Khan tried to save the cleric by locking him inside a shop nearby, but the mob attacked the cleric after breaking through the door.
Videos on social media showed the crowd pushing the imam to the ground and kicking and beating him with batons until he died.
Although people found guilty of violating Pakistan’s archaic blasphemy laws can be sentenced to death, the country has yet to carry out such a sentence.
According to domestic and international human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch, blasphemy accusations are often misused to target members of minority faiths and settle personal or political scores.
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