When all the
criticism that there is has been made about the mob violence and vigilante
justice, there are some harsh truths to face. One, every citizen in this
country, wittingly or unwittingly, has become part of one big lynching mob.
For all the anguish that a
considerable number of people felt at the news of a mob having burnt alive
(or was he burnt after being killed?) a deranged man in Chunigoth, they
could not get together as many people to protest the incident.
Scared, aren’t they. So
what exactly is it that disempowers them. Is it the absence of a pulpit and
a loud speaker? Perhaps it is. Some media coverage and a few columns in
English language later, life moved on.
As the progressive people
in the country feel guilty about their silence, they are forced to think
about the state that allowed this to happen in the first place; the state
that retreated in the face of imagined mobs rather early on. It all started
with the Objectives Resolution which was the state’s first retreat and the
slide has been downward and constant ever since.
Can we blame the voices of
reason, peace and tolerance for their silence when the state not only did
not allow a space for dialogue, it allowed others to wield guns (or was it
loud speakers to begin with).
That’s when everyone
became part of the mob. For us, ‘mob’ takes different shapes, both as
part of the state and society. The mobs don’t just come in the form of
crowds, they come as garlands, flower petals, posters, banners, bearded
protest marches and city administrations refusing to do anything
about the posters, banners or marches. They come as threats to judges,
threats executed and judges murdered or forced into exiles, judges offering
to plead the case of killers and lawyers decorating murderers. The fear of
mobs have been etched in our imagination in the form of the street power of
the clergy. The mobs sit on our television screens as anchors and declare
people wajibul qatl. They walk with us as security guards or as fellow
prisoners in jails. Or they come as mobs, making no distinction between the
sane and insane.
Somewhere in the process,
the claims of silent majority became hollower and hollower. The vocal
minority acquired an omnipresent status, owing perhaps to the silence of the
majority. For too long this silent majority took pride in the fact that the
Pakistanis only elect secular political parties in the elections in this
country. Not any more. Who needs to sit in the assemblies when the agenda is
fulfilled by the noise in the streets?
It is a surprise how weeks
before Salmaan Taseer’s death, MNA Sherry Rehman was contemplating
cautious and important improvements in the blasphemy law in the private
members bill that she was supposed to bring before the parliament. This is
exactly what the governor was suggesting — changes in the man-made law to
prevent its abuse. His murder put paid to any possibility of debate. For
those who persisted, the murder of the minister for Minorities Shahbaz
Bhatti a couple of months later came as the final lesson.
To be fair, the mobs
administering justice have not all had a religious tinge. Some, like the
ones protesting power shortage, were ominous for other reasons — they were
geared to set the ministers’ residences on fire.
In today’s Special
Report, we have also tried to look at how the administration aims to tackle
the mob violence and what laws are there to prevent it. It is yet to be seen
if the voice of reason and peace and tolerance is already a silent minority
in the country.
The Chunigoth (Bahawalpur)
incident, in which a man suspected of desecrating the Holy Quran was burnt
alive, was widely condemned, and then quickly forgotten, as other similar
incidents have been.
Two disturbing questions
arise: Firstly, why does not the killing of persons accused of blasphemy and
other offences relating to religion duly outrage the people? Have the
citizens got used to accepting such killings as routine happenings?
Secondly, why has no serious attempt been made to denounce such killings as
heinous offences and to dissuade the public from taking the law into their
There have been quite a
few cases of mob violence upon blasphemy suspects, beginning with the
lynching of a man, a Hafiz-i-Quran, following an unverified allegation by
his wife that he had desecrated the Quran. A police constable shot dead a
blasphemy suspect he was taking to a police station. A non-Muslim factory
worker was lynched by a mob in Karachi and the police failed to save him. In
all these cases, as well as in the killing of Naimat Ahmar and M. Yusuf in
prison, Manzur Masih outside the High Court and ex-judge Arif Iqbal Bhatti
and governor Salman Taseer the public reaction has been that of approval of
The reason is that the
clerics have convinced the faithful that they have a duty to kill any
blasphemer without a trial and this view gained strength through
encouragement of mob violence from various quarters. A superior court judge
was reported to have admonished a petitioner for coming to the court instead
of killing a blasphemy suspect on the spot. The result is that Naimat
Ahmar’s killer became a hero in prison and Salman Taseer’s assassin is a
hero among quite a few lawyers and retired judges.
The failure of the state
to adequately denounce the killing of persons on suspicion of blasphemy and
the public demonstration of solidarity with murderers have in a way
legitimised mob violence and killing of suspects.
At the same time, the
government has repeatedly betrayed lack of will and nerve for removing the
serious flaws in the Penal Code sections 295 to 298. Prime Ministers Benazir
Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif and General Musharraf expressed interest in amending
only the procedure, not the law, and they chose to retreat at the first sign
of resistance from obscurantists. These happenings could not but embolden
the exploiters of blasphemy law for sordid gain.
Above all, no attempt has
been made to have a rational discourse on the merits and demerits of the
blasphemy provisions, although possibilities of a debate cannot be denied.
The case against
convicting non-Muslims for blasphemy is manifestly strong because they are
non-believers. The theory that if a Muslim commits blasphemy he is liable to
be beheaded is based on the view that this person ceases to be a Muslim and
he must be executed as a murtad (apostate). There has been a long debate on
this view and the popular perception lacks unanimity.
In 1972, Mr S. A. Rahman,
a former Chief Justice of Pakistan, whose credentials as a faithful Muslim
have never been challenged, wrote a book, Punishment of Apostasy in Islam,
and it was published by the Institute of Islamic Culture, Lahore. After a
detailed study of the subject he came to the conclusion: “Not only is
there no specific provision in the Quran, prescribing punishment for an
apostate in the phenomenal world, but several verses of the Holy Book
envisage the natural death of the apostate in his condition of disbelief and
even contemplate repeated apostasies and reversions to the true faith, on
the part of an individual. He has also his whole lifetime available to him
for repentance, short of the actual moment of death.” (Punishment of
Apostasy in Islam, p131).
After analysing the
relevant cases decided in the days of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and the
Khulafa-i-Rashideen and the opinions of juris-consults, Justice Rahman
concluded that it would be difficult to make any law, enforceable in
Pakistan’s courts, to make apostasy by a Muslim punishable. “In the
humble opinion of the present writer, such a consummation would be in
conformity with the Quranic texts, which remove punishment for disbelief,
whether original or adopted, from the purview of the short span of human
life on this earth and relegate it to the eternal life after death. The
august practice of the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) is in no sense in conflict
with this position.” (ibid, p130).
Scholars are free to
disagree with Justice Rahman but the point is that alternative opinion
exists and it cannot be discarded without an honest debate.
Let us take a look at the
alternative views expressed during the proceedings related to the framing of
the blasphemy law.
Mr Ismail Qureshi,
Advocate, who led the campaign for the enactment of Sec. 295-C of the PPC
and has been lionised for this, says that when his draft of the proposed
295-C was introduced in the Zia assembly, “the Law Minister, Khan Iqbal
Ahmad Khan, and members of the assembly belonging to religious parties were
not in favour of this bill. With great difficulty they agreed to life
imprisonment (as punishment for blasphemy). However, later on they had to
add, under public pressure, death penalty to life imprisonment… As a
result, the Shariat Court was again moved to direct the President and the
government of Pakistan to prescribe death for blasphemy as hadd.” (Qanoon
Tauhin-i-Risalat, by M. Ismail Qureshi, 1994, p 367-368)
In the Shariat Court there
was a clear difference of opinion among religious scholars. An important
issue raised was that the language of Sec. 295-C was not in accordance with
the principle Al-aamal-o-binniyat (actions are judged by intent). Mr Ismail
Qureshi was not wholly satisfied with the situation after Shariat Court’s
ruling on making death mandatory punishment under 295-C. He wrote: “After
the deletion of words ‘life imprisonment’ from Sec 295-C the government
and the legislature took no further steps to bring this section in complete
accord with the injunctions of Quran and Sunnah.” (ibid p 328).
Further he argued, “In
my opinion, it is absolutely necessary to further amend the section 295-C so
as to bring it into harmony with Quran and Sunnah. Otherwise, if the section
remains unchanged there is a danger of running into ambiguity and legal
complications.” (ibid p 328). Thus many people have suffered under a law
whose promoter finds it at odds with the Islamic injunctions.
The situation in which the
people find themselves is incredibly grave. Since the blasphemy law and
insult to the Quranic provisions cannot even be discussed the orthodox
religious factions will be further steeled in their resolve to interpret
Islam as they wish and the mob will be under no pressure to repent and
review its posture.
More ordinary citizens
will continue to be felled by people who are convinced that they have a
licence to kill. Neither preventive nor punitive measures can work in these
circumstances unless saner heads get together for an intra-religion
discourse and find ways of preventing abuse law as a first step towards
purging the statute book of indefensible measures.
Whether it is unscheduled
loadshedding, an unpopular government decision, an accusation of a moral
crime against a person or something, violent protests are seen as the only
solution in this part of the world.
Within no time, large
groups of disgruntled and charged people come out in the streets and roads
to register their protest. An assembly which is totally lawful at the start
suddenly turns into an unlawful one, and there is no end to the extent the
people can go. They start destroying private and public property, attacking
government officials and even killing people who are their target.
Alleged robbers have been
burnt to death by mobs, blasphemy accused exterminated soon after accusation
was made and scores settled with rivals in personal vendettas in the name of
public reaction against a moral crime like raping a minor.
All that is required to
get protestors off the hook is a little temptation or instigation by group
members who can influence minds or excess against them by the law enforcing
authorities deployed to monitor their movement.
Such incidents are now
happening so frequently and the mobs resorting to violence so fearlessly
that one is forced to wonder if there is any law to deter them. If there is
a law at all, why do the violent mobs guilty of rioting avoid punishments
and get benefit of doubt on most occasions.
Recently, the Sindh
government has decided to set up an anti-rioting police force in Karachi to
cope with law and order situation due to frequent illegal rallies. In
Punjab, the situation is little different and riots had backing of the
It was alleged by PPP and
its allies that anti-loadshedding riots in the province had the backing of
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. The CM had endorsed protests against
loadshedding saying he would not stop them, but had urged the protesters not
to damage public property. The political leaders whose houses were attacked
in Kamalia and Khanewal held the police guilty of criminal negligence and
allowing the rioters to act freely. If this is to be believed, chances are
that the cases registered against these rioters were also weak.
An interaction with some
criminal law practitioners and police official brings us to the conclusion
that a mob enjoys no material advantage because of the sheer number of
people involved. In fact, criminal law allows for the punishment of an
unlimited number of people provided they have common intention and take
actions in pursuant of such acts. The Pakistan Penal Code contains a chapter
on ‘Offences against Public Tranquility’ and when read in conjunction
with other provisions it becomes a potent weapon in dealing with such
There are punishments for
rioting, unlawful assembly, assaulting public officials who attempt to
prevent rioting etc. Along with this, other laws concerning damage to a
person and public property can also be invoked and used to punish the
offenders. Offences of murder and hurt are equally applicable in these
For example, Section 146
of PPC says: “Whenever force or violence is used by an unlawful assembly,
or by any member thereof, in prosecution of the common object of such
assembly, every member of such assembly is guilty of the offence of
Similarly, Section 149 of
PPC says: “If an offence is committed by any member of an unlawful
assembly in prosecution of the common object of that assembly, or such as
the members of that assembly knew to be likely to be committed in
prosecution of that object, every person who, at the time of the committing
of that offence, is a member of the same assembly, is guilty of that
This means if a member of
an unlawful assembly kills a person, while the others watch on and abet,
they can all be held guilty for the crime.
“Mob violence is not a
new problem; rather countries have come up with effective arrest and
prosecution mechanisms to punish those who abuse the right of expression and
assembly to intimidate, harass and cause serious damage to public and
private property,” says Barrister Salman Safdar, a leading criminal law
practitioner and expert on issues pertaining to crime scene preservation.
“We lag behind in prosecuting such offenders with the result that we have
been ushered back in to the era of mob lynching.”
Safdar’s point is that
the real problem lies in prosecutions that are weak despite the grave losses
and damage caused by mobs. In most instances, a case does not progress
beyond the recording of an FIR or, at most, if the police are able to arrest
individuals involved in the crime, the bail stage.
Prosecutions and trials in
such matters are unheard of and files on such offences are left to rot in
the dark recesses of record rooms. The need of the time is to mount
effective prosecutions against instigators and rioters alike so that a clear
deterrent can be set and cases be taken to their logical conclusion.
Individuals must realise
that there is a cost associated with damaging a person or property and they
cannot hide from punishment by being a part of a large group. A strong
deterrent can make the law much more effective than it is right now, he
There is some talk of
using Anti-Terror Laws to quell and punish mobs and rioters. Depending on
the facts and urgency of the matter, specific as well as broad provisions
from such legislation can be used. The Anti Terror Act of 1997 already
mandates a punishment for the crime of creating civil commotion.
Regrettably, Salman believes such provisions are not used to quell rioters
or mobs and are left to be academic aspects rather than active ones.
In case a person fears
that a mob is out to damage him or his property he retains the right to
defend it. The use of force must be proportional and that varies from case
to case. As long as the retaliation is proportional the registration of
cases against those having engaged in self-defence is quite pointless for
the law allows them an absolute defense in such cases.
Advocate Intezar Mehdi, a
Lahore-based lawyer, says that in many incidents Section 188 of PPC is
invoked which is easy to contest. It covers “disobedience to order duly
promulgated by public servant.”
The illustration in PPC on
this section explains it in these words: “An order is promulgated by a
public servant lawfully empowered to promulgate such order, directing that a
religious procession shall not pass down a certain street. A knowingly
disobeys the order, and thereby causes danger of riot. A has committed the
offence defined in the section.”
Mehdi says there is a
general perception among police officers that rioters can get an easy exit
especially for their connections to certain political, religious or interest
groups. Cases against them are weak from the start. Prosecution and
collection of evidence, he says, is quite difficult as rioters disperse
immediately. In many incidents or riots, people were brought from parts of
the country other than where they occurred. This makes the task of police
even tougher. “I think the footage made by TV channels should be enough
evidence but unfortunately prosecutors have to hunt for human witnesses.”
Babar Ali, a Deputy
Superintendent of Police (DSP) with Punjab Police, seconds Mehdi: “The
biggest problem is the collection of evidence. There is no witness in cases
of riots, which helps the rioters in the end.”
The silence of the
administration, especially the police, over the violent acts of the mobs of
protesters even as they damage public and private property and violate human
rights by torturing the ‘accused’ and taking the law in their own hands,
is indeed lamentable.
There have been several
incidents in the recent past where the cops were found to be mere passive
spectators. The social media has been regularly posting private videos of
such incidents, exposing the fallacy of the state administration.
we have the authority but we cannot apply that authority,” says a senior
police officer, requesting anonymity.
He further says that these
days there is too much “political consideration”, which means an
“understanding” is reached on how to not use force when dealing with a
particular kind of protestors — mostly anti-loadshedding mobs.
It varies from case to
case and situation to situation. “Many a time when the police is out to
stop a violent mob, the media dubs us as brutal and overstepping our
authority. Later, the police is targeted by the authorities for taking
action,” says the officer.
are the toughest to handle, he says. There is a general sense among the
force that the political leadership is too meddlesome. “The situation was
different before the Police Order 2000 came into effect. As per the Order,
the police is supposed to seek permission from the local magistrate before
taking any strict action against the protestors.”
“We are gradually
becoming weaker and the police officers are ever so reluctant to use force
even when it is genuinely required, also because of the assertive courts
that take suo motu notices at the drop of a hat and punish the officers
instead of appreciating the fact that they are the ones who maintain the law
and order,” says a civil servant, not wanting to be named.
“We have a weak
administrative and legal system wherein a property worth millions of rupees
is burnt or damaged. This includes state property. But nothing substantive
is done about it.”
According to the civil
servant, last year’s London riots were a good example to learn from, where
the civil as well as the political administration sat together and afforded
complete authority to the police to manage the law and order situation.
Contrarily, in Pakistan,
the sitting Punjab government was forced to withdraw the charges of
vandalism when, on February 14, 2006, an anti-blasphemous cartoons
procession by angry clerics at The Mall, Lahore, killed two persons. The
enraged group also plundered and looted public property on the road.
This kind of vandalism was
never seen before. The Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), in addition to certain
provisions of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), is meant to prosecute hordes of
people engaged in such violent protests. However, the government, in a bid
to please the Sunni clerics, destroyed all efforts of the police and the
prosecution department to take the violent elements to task and, thereby,
set an example. To quote a senior civil servant, “This is how the
administration avoids dealing with acts of vandalism, thanks to political
Another senior police
officer, while seconding these views, fears that the rapid increase in the
number of violent processions will put the police administration in a
precarious situation in the future because of the kind of legitimacy these
processions have now been given.
He further says that more
than a question of ‘mob psyche’, it’s about how people want their
voice to be heard. “We need clear-cut policies and a strong political will
to attain balance and maintain discipline,” he emphasises.
He quotes the examples of
Sindh where the police still exercises some authority and uses its power to
stop the people from violating the law while protesting.
“The police started to
weaken in Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Junejo’s regime when he allowed the
administration to let the people protest and attain their catharsis,” says
Shaukat Javed, a former official of the Punjab police.
Elaborating his point, he
says that these days the police officers prefer to remain silent and not
take any action against the mob because they are afraid of “media
scrutiny” and, later, “persecution by the political authorities for
their own political mileage. The authorities would rather appease the public
than appreciate the police efforts to curb violence.
However, it is time the
administration realised that the prerogative to control violence is that of
the police only. Hence, the police should be afforded enough room to
function. “In order to mend things, you have to start at the top — i.e.
the policymakers,” he says, adding that even though the police is blamed
for staying out, its silence is attributed to the “tacit approval” of
the government’s political hierarchy.
What is needed is a
July 4, 2012 A
large demonstration in Tehkal turned violent when the protesters blocked the
main University Road from 7am to 12:30pm, disrupting the transport in the
city. The protesters threw boulders and rocks on the road and smashed car
windscreens to exhibit their opposition against power outages which had
lasted for over 22 hours at a stretch and, in some areas, for 3 to 4 days
June 19, 2012 A violent
mob pelted stones at the residence of the PML-Q Riaz Fatiyana. As Mr
Fatiyana’s guards open fired, three people including a 14-year-old boy
were killed while 83 were injured in widespread protests across Kamalia
June 9, 2012 Residents of
Karachi City staged violent protests against power outages. The residents of
Korangi area who were denied electricity supply for over a week took to the
streets and burnt a truck. In the FC area, a KESC office was ransacked as
protesters destroyed the office furniture and set two vehicles on fire.
Protests continued in the Liaquatabad area where an angry mob burnt a truck
and a rickshaw and also clashed with police in the area
June 2012 Violent protests
were held in different parts of Punjab against the power outages. In
Khanewal, Chichawatni, Gujranwala, Faisalabad and Toba Tek Singh, railway
lines were blocked, train carriages set ablaze, tyres burnt and shops
March 16, 2012 In Lahore,
a mob protesting against the Raymond Davis verdict turned violent as the
police tried to stop them from entering the US Consulate. Protestors pelted
stones at the police. Hours of violent clashes left 15 protesters and four
policemen injured while two police vans and three cars were damaged by the
2011: Riots gripped Gujranwala as a Muslim mob stoned a Christian locality
including the residence of Javed Masih, a local church and a Cathedral
School. Tyres were burned and the entire area was blocked as the mob charged
towards the Christian locality. The violence erupted due to an alleged
distribution of anti- Islamic text and burning of the Holy Quran in the
nearby graveyard by certain members of the Christian community
August 20, 2010 In Sialkot,
a mob killed two brothers Hafiz Mughees, 15, and Hafiz Muneeb, 19, who were
carrying a bag which the mob claimed to have contained stolen goods. The mob
lashed out at the boys with sticks and metal rods and, later, hung the dead
bodies upside down at a nearby roundabout
August 1, 2009: Eight
Christians were killed while 18 were injured as riots broke out between the
Muslim and the Christian communities in Gojra, Punjab. The mob, consisting
of Muslims, burnt the property owned by the Christians and attacked various
members of their community for allegedly committing blasphemy
February 2006 Processions
turned violent in cities throughout Pakistan condemning the publication of
the blasphemous caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in Danish
newspapers. Angry mobs took to the streets, burning tyres, clashing with the
local police and destroying private and public property