Where the court had made strides in setting a much needed precedent for the Kot Radha Kishan blasphemy case by sentencing five men to death for their involvement and further imprisoning eight in 2014, the recent mob acquittal evokes a conflicting reaction. Where they have ascribed to the judicious establishment of the burden of proof, the question of how to hold all those involved in such a heinous crime accountable, presents an area of ambivalence as many involved in mob crimes are acquitted by the grace of insufficient evidence and an inability to prove intent.

Cases involving mob lynching are mostly seen through a communal lens and are relative to specific minorities and castes, which become an issue of public order and is in direct conflict to tenants of law. Where the argument stands that societies evince frequent incidents of mob violence as a by-product of a lethargic and ambivalent justice system, in Pakistan the majority of the mob violence in embedded in faith-based intolerance and blasphemy accusations. Since the promulgation of the blasphemy laws mandating the death penalty for the accused, the edict has been translated as a state-sanctioned public sentencing, ordained by Islam. However, justice dispensed in the realm of the public, like public executions and floggings are customs that predate Islam, and have served to desensitise society to violence and morph into concepts of vigilante justice detached from institutionalised law. Similarly, where the Zia era played a huge role in legitimising the atrociously misguided concept of fanatical public justice, successive civil and military regimes since have not attempted to repeal the laws that have informally entrenched radical and intolerant modes of violence in society or formulate new ones to contain it. Where those laws can be held as the cognitive legitimisation of such incidents, the inability of the State and our judicial systems in setting parameters that specifically try blasphemy-lynching mobs akin to organised criminal outfits is part of the shortfall in its curtailment.

While the crime of lynching itself is purported and aided by many right-wing political organisations the divisive ideologies and demarcations which create loci of patronage, intimidation and power that are leveraged in the political arena and mainstreamed in our daily lives, have become a tool in the subverted political matrix. As of now, there are no specific provisions in any law that deal with the cases of mob lynching under a cohesive legislation which causes ambiguity and differences in interpretation of the problem in hand. There is a compelling need for at least certain specific provisions if not legislation for the crimes related to mob lynching that address the legal lacunas in definitions, evidentiary criteria and legal procedures. Such provisions also need to ensure speedy trials, rehabilitation of victims’ families and protection of witnesses.