By Mubasher Bukhari
LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) – A Pakistani police constable has been arrested over the murder of a man who was acquitted of blasphemy charges last year, a police spokesman said.
Ahmed Nawaz told Reuters that Muhammad Waqas was hacked to death on Friday in the central Pakistani district of Sadiqabad.
He said the suspect, a 21-year-old man who joined the force just months ago, told investigators he killed Waqas because “he had committed blasphemy”.
Waqas was charged in a blasphemy case in 2016, accused of sharing content online that was insulting to the Prophet Mohammad. The Lahore High Court overturned the conviction in 2020, and Waqas was released from prison.
“He remained underground for sometime even after his release and returned home a few weeks ago,” the police spokesman told Reuters.
Insulting the Prophet carries a mandatory death penalty in Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim country. While courts have pronounced death sentences for some of those convicted, Pakistan has never carried out an execution over blasphemy charges.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have long been criticised by rights groups, because they are seen as giving cover to vigilantes to attack those accused of the crime, whatever the courts decide.
In July 2020, Tahir Naseem, a US citizen of Pakistani origin, was gunned down and killed as he stood before a judge in the northwestern city of Peshawar to answer blasphemy charges.
The teen suspect, Faisal Khan, was lionized in street rallies by hardline religious groups, and police escorting him took selfies to share on social media to show support for his actions.
In April, supporters of hardline religious group Tehrik-i-Labaik Pakistan clashed with security forces for weeks in cities across the country, taking police officers hostage and demanding Islamabad expel the French ambassador over the publication of cartoons in France depicting the Prophet Mohammad.
(Reporting by Mubasher Bukhari; Writing by Umar Farooq, Editing by Ros Russell)