The Real Culprits

Having successfully thwarted a religiously motivated lynching in Sargodha, the Punjab authorities must now focus on the much harder part: holding the perpetrators accountable. Where we acknowledge that law enforcement in recent years has been more proactive in preventing mob violence, even at the expense of their own lives, the larger justice and administrative system as a whole has been unable to effectively target its preparators.

Sargodha Police have identified and booked 44 people for their alleged role in the violence, with several counts under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) 1997, along with regular counts under the Pakistan Penal Code.

On the face of it, it seems like the police are on the right track, as a large number have been identified and the ATA provisions will fast-track the proceedings, however, this number will dwindle as time goes on.

In 2015, a crowd estimated to be around a thousand burned a Christian couple in a brick kiln in Kot Radha Krishan near Kasur over false allegations of blasphemy. That case caused an international outrage and became one of the most high-profile cases of the year. The police booked 660 individuals initially, later 106 were indicted by the Anti-terrorism court, only a few dozen were brought to trial, most were acquitted, some received jail terms, and 5 were given the death sentence, out of whom 2 were acquitted on appeal. From 660 booked to 3 death sentences. Successfully holding mobs accountable has been a glaring weakness in Pakistan’s legal system. It has very little to do with the paucity of relevant laws, and much more with political will. Who incites the mob with religious sermons, who benefits from spreading hate against minorities, and who runs on a hardline stance on the blasphemy issue? These questions are not hard to answer.

Unsurprisingly, there are reports that a few days before the incident in Sargodha, a member of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) – the fanatic organization once led by the infamous Maulana Khadim Rizvi – had a heated argument with one of the intended victims.

Here lies the crux of the matter, the mob is simply an instrument, incited and aggravated by religious clerics who seek to gain power. While the instrument must be prosecuted to the maximum ability of the law, the real culprits must be identified and brought to justice, in the face of political and religious pressure.

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