An angry mob stoned to death a mentally ill man in Pakistan, authorities have said, in the country’s latest case of blasphemy-related violence.
Dozens of people have been arrested over the lynching, which happened on Saturday evening in a remote village in Punjab province, after it was alleged that the victim had burned some pages of the Qur’an, according to Tahir Ashrafi, the prime minister’s special representative on religious harmony.
Law-enforcement agencies were also monitoring hundreds of other suspects, he said.
The killing came just over two months after a Sri Lankan factory manager was beaten to death and set ablaze by a mob over blasphemy in Sialkot city, also in Punjab.
“Who could possibly justify the barbaric act of stoning to death a mentally ill person?” Ashrafi told a televised press conference in Khanewal district, where the lynching happened.
“The man’s family say that he was mentally ill and his mental health wasn’t right for the past 10 to 15 years.”
“This is not the religion of my Prophet, to kill people under your own interpretation of religion,” he added.
The prime minister, Imran Khan, said on Twitter his government had “zero tolerance for anyone taking the law into their own hands”, adding that “mob lynchings will be dealt with full severity of the law”.
He said he had asked Punjab officials for a “report on action taken against perpetrators of the lynching. … and against the police who failed in their duty”.
Few issues are as galvanising in Pakistan as blasphemy, and even the slightest suggestion of an insult to Islam can supercharge protests and incite lynchings.
Rights groups say accusations of blasphemy can often be wielded to settle personal vendettas, with minorities largely the target.
In April 2017, an angry mob killed the university student Mashal Khan after he was accused of posting blasphemous content online. And a Christian couple were lynched then burned in a kiln in Punjab in 2014, after being falsely accused of desecrating the Qur’an.