Pakistan Lynching a 'Chilling Reminder' of Dangers of Blasphemy Laws

Press Release
July 5, 2012

Pakistan Lynching a 'Chilling Reminder' of Dangers of Blasphemy Laws

Contact: Sharon Singh, ssingh@aiusa.org, 202-675-8579, @spksingh

(Washington, D.C.) - Amnesty International today demanded that members of a baying mob who lynched a man accused of breaching Pakistan's blasphemy laws be brought to justice as a matter of urgency.

On Wednesday, July 4, residents in the town of Channigoth in Bahawalpur, Punjab province accused a homeless man of burning a Quran, an offense punishable by life imprisonment. Local police detained the man, whose identity remains unknown, but before they could investigate the claim, a group numbering more than a thousand gathered outside the station demanding that police kill the suspect.

When police attempts to calm the crowd failed, the group attacked and eventually dragged the man out of the station and beat him to death. Witnesses said people poured gasoline on his dead body and set it alight.

"We recognize the extreme challenge faced by police when confronted by more than a thousand people baying for blood," said Polly Truscott, Amnesty International’s South Asia director. "But police efforts will have been in vain if Punjab authorities do not urgently bring the perpetrators to justice in trials consistent with international standards. Failure to do so effectively sends the message that anyone can commit outrageous abuses and attempt to excuse them as a defense of religious sentiments."

The Pakistan blasphemy laws' vague formulation, along with inadequate investigation by authorities and intimidation by militant religious groups, has promoted vigilantism in Pakistan, especially in the Punjab. Religious minorities have been disproportionately accused of blasphemy, but a large proportion of victims are from the Muslim majority.

"Pakistan authorities must urgently reform blasphemy laws to ensure that they cannot be used maliciously to settle disputes or enable private citizens to take matters into their own hands," Truscott concluded.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.