A 17-year-old was shot dead and a friend seriously injured by a Muslim mob in Pakistan, allegedly in retaliation for the arrest of a mentally unstable Hindu man accused of “desecrating” a copy of the Quran. Blasphemy remains a crime in Pakistan, emboldening mobs to attack religious minorities when one is accused of anti-Islamic behavior.
The Pakistani newspaper Dawn reports that the killing of Dewan Sateesh Kumar and shooting of his friend, identified as “Avinash,” occurred as the adolescents were drinking tea in Ghoti, Sindh, following the arrest of a man for allegedly burning pages of the Quran. The man arrested for desecrating the Quran has been identified as Amar Lal, a Hindu, who locals identify as either being mentally ill or suffering from drug addiction. Dawn cites witnesses saying Lal had been living in a mosque and had recently converted to Islam.
Lal was arrested, the Hindustan Times reports, after a mob staged a five-hour “sit-in” on the National Highway demanding an arrest after what appeared to be pages of the Quran were found burned outside of the mosque Lal allegedly lived it. Police have yet to report any direct evidence linking Lal to the pages or a confession from the suspect.
Dozens of Muslims have been arrested in the aftermath of the arrest Tuesday. Dawn cites a police spokesman as putting the number of arrested rioters at 84; the Hindustan Times at “more than 150 people.”
Pakistani Christian sites also share reports that a young Hindu girl has been abducted in the town as an “honor reparation” for the Quran incident, and human rights activists say they have been personally attacked by mobs angered by the arrest.
“The agitation is too much because the alleged accused belongs to religious Hindu minority. Blasphemy law is a fire which burns the many innocents”, Sardar Mushtaq Gill, a human rights activist now in hiding, told the Pakistan Christian Post.
Blasphemy against Islam is illegal in Pakistan as per the nation’s Constitution, which allows the government to curb freedom of expression “in the interest of the glory of Islam.” Over 1,400 people were arrested in the nation for blasphemy in 2014, while others were killed by mobs when accused of committing the crime. In a notably gruesome 2014 case, a pregnant Christian couple was burned alive in a kiln in Punjab after someone in their town claimed they had burned a Quran.
Locals often use the blasphemy laws to implicate non-Muslims with whom they have secular disputes. In a case last September, a Christian man was arrested for allegedly insulting Muhammad, though his accusers did not specify what he had said. The victim’s brother-in-law told media that the accuser had engaged in a financial dispute with the man arrested shortly before the accusation arose.
Recently, Pakistan has been reeling from the murder of a prominent celebrity over alleged disrespect towards Islam. Qandeel Baloch made a name for herself posting sensual photos on social media, a penchant that garnered her the nickname “Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian.” Her brother strangled her to death after drugging her two weeks ago — not as revenge for her public persona, but because she had challenged the authority of a prominent mufti. Baloch accused Mufti Abdul Qavi of making sexual advances towards her and inappropriately breaking the Ramadan fast in her presence, claims that got Qavi removed from a prestigious Muslim clerical panel.