QUETTA - A 13-year boy was killed and five others were wounded Thursday when a mob attacked a police station in an attempt to lynch a Hindu man charged with blasphemy in Balochistan’s city of Hub, officials said.

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It was the third major vigilante attack linked to accusations of blasphemy in less than a month, as law enforcement agencies struggle to deal with a surge in violence.

The latest incident occurred in the town of Hub following the arrest of 34-year-old Prakash Kumar, a crockery shop owner who was detained on Tuesday for allegedly sharing a picture containing blasphemous content on WhatsApp.

“When news of his arrest was published in local newspapers on Thursday, a crowd of some 500 people including traders, clerics and politicians surrounded the town’s police station to demand he be handed over,” police official Abdul Sattar told AFP.

When police refused, the mob turned on them, beating up officers and local government officials before opening fire with guns. A 10-year-old boy was killed and five others were wounded in the melee, he added.

District Police Officer Zia Mandokhail told The Nation that DSP Hub Jan Muhammad Khosa, Assistant Deputy Commissioner Tariq Javed and a constable Mukhtiar were seriously injured and shifted to Karachi for treatment.

A rescue official was also wounded, besides an unidentified boy who later succumbed to his injuries, as he had received bullet wounds which turned fatal.

Jam Mohammad, another police official, confirmed the account, adding: “The siege went on for about three hours and the mob went on a rampage demanding Kumar be handed over.”

But Mujeeb Qambrani, a senior local administration official said the authorities had not succumbed to the mob because “we are legally bound to protect the accused”.

Hub Police Station House Officer Attaullah Naumani told the media that a First Information Report (FIR) was registered against the accused on the complaint of various community members under Sections 295-A and 295-C of the blasphemy law.

Lasbela SSP Zia Mandokhel said the police had also seized the cellphone through which the suspect allegedly shared blasphemous content. A local court has sent the suspect to the Gaddani Central Jail for further interrogation in the case.

Order was restored once the government sent in paramilitary troops to disperse the mob. The police dispersed the crowd through tear gas shelling and aerial firing, and took 20 protesters into custody.

Search operations were underway to arrest those suspected of inciting the mob to the violence, the police confirmed. Some police sources said the mob was led by an influential cleric as well as Zia Shehzad, a politician from the ruling PML-N political party.

The violent speared fear and panic among the Hindu community members living in large numbers in Bela, Lakra and Lyari. Shops owned by Hindus were shut down and roads connecting Sindh to Balochistan via Hub were closed for security operations until further notice. Police, FC and other law enforcement agencies have boosted up patrolling in Hub city.

On April 13, hundreds of men attacked and killed a 23-year-old journalism student in Mardan in an incident that sparked a national backlash after a video of it went viral online.

Just over a week later a mob attacked a mentally-ill man claiming to be prophet at his local mosque in Chitral. He was later saved by police.

A few months ago, a number of bloggers were also accused of blasphemy, and some of them were kidnapped and later released. The Islamabad High Court later ordered authorities to purge social media and internet of blasphemous content.

Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive topic in the conservative country. Unproven allegations of blasphemy have led to dozens of mob attacks or murders since 1990.

After the spate of these incidents, especially after the Mashal Khan’s murder, social and political leaders of the country have repeatedly stressed that people cannot be allowed to take the law into their own hand. They also asserted that even if someone has committed blasphemy, one can only be punished by the courts.

 

 

Sharif Khan/Agencies