A Pakistani mob has killed a woman and two of her granddaughters after a member of their religious sect was accused of posting ‘blasphemous’ material on Facebook. The dead, who include a seven-year-old girl and her baby sister, were Ahmadis, a religious sect who consider themselves Muslim, but who are condemned as heretics by others. Pakistani law considers them to not be proper Muslims.
Washington Post Sometime on Sunday, an image of a semi-nude woman atop a holy monument in Mecca materialized on the Facebook page of an 18-year-old man belonging to an Islamic religious minority, the Ahmadi.
News quickly filtered through the majority community, the New York Times reports. The marauders first numbered in the hundreds, but soon swelled to encompass about 1,000 members who looted, threw stones and set multiple houses ablaze in the eastern Pakistani city of Gujranwala.
The Facebook post, they said, was “blasphemous” — and someone was going to pay. But ultimately, it wouldn’t be the young man, Aqib Saleem, who was left unharmed in in the riots. It would be the women. It would be one Ahmadi grandmother. It would be her two Ahmadi granddaughters — one age 7, the other just 8 months old. They had been trapped inside one of the burning buildings and died there of smoke inhalation, according to the New York Times. And it would be the unborn child of another Ahmadi woman, who had been pregnant seven months and miscarried during the riots.
In a religiously intolerant Muslim country, where an accusation of blasphemy can ignite riots against religious minorities, it was unclear Tuesday morning whether the mob had its facts right. Observers suspected the teen’s password had been stolen and someone had surreptitiously planted the “blasphemous” picture.
“The people who were killed were not even indirectly accuse of blasphemy charges,” explained the chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in an interview with the Times. “Their only fault was that they were Ahmadis. Torching women and children in their house simply because of their faith represents brutalization and barbarianism stooping to new levels.”
But there’s nothing necessarily new about such “brutalization.” Accusations of blasphemy play a dark role in Pakistani society, abetted by a politically popular law that can prescribe death for insulting Islam. Often manipulated to suppress religious minorities and settle scores,human rights groups say accusations of blasphemy can lead to lengthy prison terms, a death sentence, and vigilante killings — regardless of evidence. Human Rights Watch reports that “thousands” have been charged under the blasphemy law since its implementation, and 18 people are on Pakistani death row for it.
Others, however, never make it to court.