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Female Pakistani Schoolteacher The Latest Victim Of Blasphemy Vigilantes

Relatives and locals carry the body of a man who was killed after an angry mob allegedly stoned him to death, in Khanewal district on February 13.

At around 7 a.m., Pakistani schoolteacher Safoora Bibi was walking to work when she was attacked by three women armed with knives and sticks.

The women ambushed Bibi near the main entrance of an all-girls Islamic seminary where she worked. Two of the attackers were her students. The third was a fellow teacher.

When police arrived at the Jamia Islamia Falahul Binaat school in the northwestern Pakistani town of Dera Ismail Khan on March 29, they found Bibi’s body outside the school. The 21-year-old had been repeatedly stabbed. Her throat was slit.

The attackers had accused Bibi of committing blasphemy, a highly serious and sensitive charge in Pakistan, a predominately Muslim nation of some 220 million where even unproven allegations have led to vigilante justice including mob lynchings and violence.

Bibi’s gruesome killing has put the spotlight on vigilante attacks in Pakistan, where scores of people accused of blasphemy have been killed in the past few decades.

Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws prescribe the death penalty for insulting the Prophet Muhammad or the Koran. Critics say the laws are often used to settle personal scores or silence dissenting voices.

While the Pakistani government has said it has a zero-tolerance policy for such attacks, rights campaigners say Islamabad is reluctant to repeal or reform the country's strict blasphemy laws and rein in powerful hard-line Islamist groups.

Islamists vehemently oppose any changes to the blasphemy laws and have used violence and street protests to put pressure on Islamabad.

‘No Enmity’

Pakistan police said the three suspects had been arrested and confessed to murdering Bibi.

The main suspect is Umra Aman, a teacher who planned the crime with two nieces studying at the seminary, police said.

The girls told police that a relative had “seen in her dream that Safoora Bibi had committed blasphemy,” Najmul Hasan Liaqat, a police officer, told reporters on March 29. Liaqat said police were investigating if the killing was a result of a personal feud.

People attend a vigil for a Sri Lankan worker who was lynched by a mob over allegations of blasphemy in Lahore in December.
People attend a vigil for a Sri Lankan worker who was lynched by a mob over allegations of blasphemy in Lahore in December.

Zahid Qureshi, Bibi’s uncle, said there was “no enmity” between Bibi and the perpetrators.

“They attended lessons and sometimes returned from school together," Qureshi told RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal. "A cruel act has been committed against us and we demand justice from the authorities.”

Maulana Shafiullah, the head teacher at Jamia Islamia Falahul Binaat, said Bibi had been teaching at the school for two years. Shafiullah said the three suspects were all locals.

History Of Violence

Bibi is the latest victim of blasphemy-related violence in Pakistan, where more than 90 civilians accused of blasphemy have been killed during the past seven decades, according to the Center for Research and Security Studies, a think tank in Islamabad.

In a report issued in January, the organization said that more than 1,400 people had faced blasphemy accusations both in courts and from angry street mobs since Pakistan's independence in 1947. More than 1,200 of these cases and incidents were documented during the past decade, marking a huge increase.

In February, a mob in Pakistan’s eastern province of Punjab stoned a man to death for allegedly desecrating the Koran.

A custodian at a local mosque reportedly told villagers he saw the man burning a Koran in the mosque. A police team arrived at the scene, but the mob snatched the man away and attacked officers who tried to retrieve him. The mob -- which reportedly numbered several hundred people -- then stoned the man to death.

The lynching came two months after a similar incident in Sialkot, another city in Punjab. On December 3, an angry mob killed a Sri Lankan factory manager and set his corpse on fire. Priyantha Kumara was reportedly attacked after allegedly ordering the removal of posters of a far-right Islamist party.