Blasphemy Is a Crime in Pakistan. Mobs Are Delivering the Verdicts.

Late last month, hundreds of people protested in major Pakistani cities over a blasphemy ruling by a top judge, who also faced an online backlash and threats. Two days later, a police officer in Punjab Province rescued a woman from attack by people who had mistaken Arabic script on her dress for Quranic verses.

Later that week, a group in Karachi demolished the minarets on a house of worship used by the Ahmadi sect, a long-persecuted minority declared heretical under Pakistan’s Constitution, amid accusations that their faith insults Islam.

These are only the most recent of many such episodes in Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim country where faith holds immense sway. Blasphemy is taken seriously in the country, and a conviction could mean death.

But so can an accusation: Mobs sometimes take matters into their own hands, lynching people before their cases can even go to trial. A political climate that has given cover to extremism and a police force that is sometimes unable or unwilling to intervene have helped enable such violence.

Last Sunday, the police in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s most populous province, got a call from a shopkeeper in a local market: A crowd had gathered around a woman, accusing her of blasphemy.

The woman, whose identity the police withheld for her safety, wore a dress inscribed with the word “Halwa” in Arabic script, meaning “sweet” or “beautiful.” Bystanders, not knowing the meaning in Arabic, mistook the writing for Quranic verses.

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