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In Pakistan, Police Save Muslim Woman Wearing Dress With Arabic Print From Being Lynched By Mob Claiming Blasphemy

An angry mob in Pakistan accused a woman who wore a dress adorned with Arabic calligraphy of blasphemy, after mistaking them for Quran verses.

She was saved by police who escorted her to safety after hundreds gathered. She later gave a public apology.

The dress has the word “Halwa” printed in Arabic letters on it, meaning sweet in Arabic.

Blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan. Some people have been lynched even before their cases go on trial.

Police told the BBC they first received a call at around 13:10 local (08:10 GMT) on Sunday that a crowd had gathered around a woman at a restaurant in Lahore, the capital of the Pakistani province of Punjab.

Around 300 people had crowded outside the restaurant by the time they arrived, said Assistant Superintendent Syeda Shehrbano.

Videos of the scene circulated on social media, with one showing a woman, visibly scared, sitting in the far corner of the restaurant, shielding her face with her hand.

In another, she is surrounded by officers, who had formed the only barrier between her and a growing crowd who were shouting for her to remove the shirt. In some videos, people can be heard chanting that those who blaspheme must be beheaded.

Footage shared on social media shows Ms Shehrbano standing at the restaurant’s entrance, trying to restore order to an increasingly charged crowd.

“Nobody actually knew what was written on the shirt,” she said. “The major feat was to try to get that woman out of the area in order to ensure that she is safe.”

Ms Shehrbano adds that she had to “negotiate” with the crowd.

“We told them we would take the woman with us, her actions are going to be taken into account and we’re going to hold her responsible for whatever crime committed as per the law of the land.”

The footage later showed Ms Shehrbano putting her arm around the woman, now covered by a black robe and a headscarf, and pushing through the crowd. Other police officers formed a chain with their arms to clear their path as people in the crowd pushed against them.

Ms Shehrbano said supporters of the hardline Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party were among those in the crowd.

The woman was brought into a police station, where several religious scholars confirmed that the text on her dress was Arabic calligraphy, not verses from the Quran.

The police then asked the scholars to record a video stating their findings and that the woman was innocent.

“I didn’t have any such intention, it happened by mistake. Still I apologise for all that happened, and I’ll make sure it never happens again,” she said, adding that she is a devout Muslim and would never commit blasphemy.

Authorities said she was in Lahore to do some shopping, and has since left the city.

Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi, a former advisor to the prime minister on religious affairs said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the men in the crowd, rather than the woman, should have been the ones to apologise.

Ms Shehrbano said authorities have seen a “mushrooming of incidents” similar to that on Sunday.

“Had I not screamed and had I not convinced the crowd that we will do something about it, It would have turned nastier… Thank God,” she said. She has been widely praised, with the Chief of Punjab police calling for her to receive an award for her bravery.

Laws against blasphemy were first codified by India’s British rulers and expanded in the 1980s under the military government.

In August last year, scores of churches and homes were burnt in Jaranwala, a city east of Pakistan, after two men from the city were accused of damaging the Quran. (BBC)

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