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Man stoned to death for sacrilege

By B. Muralidhar Reddy

ISLAMABAD July 6. Even as the civil society of Pakistan is reeling under the shock of what has come to be known as `honour rape', yet another instance of a man being stoned to death by a mob in a village in Faisalabad on charges of blasphemy has come to light.

Local media reports said Zahid Shah of Chak Jhumra village was stoned to death on Friday by villagers on the call of a local Pesh Imam who had issued a decree (fatwa) against the man accusing him of blasphemy.

Human rights organisations in Pakistan have been urging the successive governments to tone down some of the draconian provisions of the blasphemy law but no regime has touched it for fear of incurring the wrath of the powerful right-wing groups.

Months after he took over the reigns of the country, the Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf, did announce plans to change the procedure for registration of blasphemy cases but was forced to beat a retreat in the wake uproar from the religious parties and groups.

The case involving rape of a young woman in a village in the Punjab province on June 22 on orders of the panchayat as a punishment for alleged intimacy of her brother with a woman of `higher status' has sent shock waves throughout the country.

Thanks to the extensive coverage of the incident in the media and furore by the NGOs the Supreme Court of Pakistan took suo motu notice of the incident and directed the Punjab administration to bring the culprits to book.

Senior officials of the Punjab administration informed the apex court on Friday that they had launched a manhunt in search of the four rapists, one of them was part of the jury that pronounced the judgement against the woman. Police have now claimed to have arrested one of the rapists.

In the case involving the stoning to death of a man it appears the local Imam roused the passions of the villagers by invoking charges of blasphemy.

The 40 year old victim was earlier booked in 1994 under Section 295(B) of the Blasphemy Act on charges of desecrating the Holy Quran and using objectionable words against the holy Prophet.

The accused was jailed but was released on bail in 1997. It appears that Shah was released on bail after the court came to the conclusion that he was mentally deranged.

After his release, Shah left the village and settled with his brother in another village. A few days ago, he returned to his village and allegedly had an altercation with some of the locals on Thursday. When the matter was brought to the notice of Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, he convened a "panchayat'' the same day. After Isha prayers, the Maulvi called out to the people through the mosque loudspeaker to come out and kill Shah.

Local media reports said scores of the villagers gathered outside Shah's house, brought him out in the presence of his brother and wife, beat up him with iron rods and sticks and dragged him to the main intersection of the village. The Mauvli then ordered the enraged mob to stone Shah to death on the spot.

Chak Jhumra police, who reached the spot after four hours of the incident, neither arrested any of the killers nor sent the body for autopsy.

Shah's relatives, who were shocked and terrified, kept themselves indoors and refused to register a case. Police later handed over the body for burial.

A Chak Jhumra Police Station official was quoted as saying that said it was an "accidental incident''.

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