Pakistan policewoman praised for saving woman from blasphemy mob

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A police officer who saved a woman accused of blasphemy from a mob of 200 men in eastern Pakistan has described how she had to negotiate with the crowd to lead her to safety.

The woman, who has not been named for security reasons, was surrounded in a Lahore restaurant by men who wrongly claimed her shirt was adorned with verses from the Quran.

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Blasphemy is an incendiary charge in ultra-conservative Pakistan, where mobs have lynched people they deem to have insulted Islam.

Syeda Shehrbano Naqvi, an assistant superintendent with Punjab police, was among the first officers on the scene on Sunday.

“The crowd was pretty charged, and they were chanting slogans. They were talking about how people who commit blasphemy must be punished,” Naqvi told AFP.

A video shared on social media showed the woman sitting in a corner of a cafe protecting her face with her hands.

Crowds were later heard chanting: “The only punishment for blasphemy is beheading.”

“There was a confusion and nobody was willing to listen to us. We feared that if the dialogue didn’t begin, the woman’s life would be in danger,” Naqvi added.

In the end, Naqvi appealed with the crowd to let police determine whether Pakistan’s blasphemy laws had been breached.

Officers then formed a human chain to help lead the woman out of the restaurant.

The woman was in fact wearing a shirt with the Arabic word for “beautiful” written on it.

“We have experienced at least two such events before in Lahore. Religious crowds are always pretty charged and we had no idea what we were going to deal with,” Naqvi said.

The officer has since been recommended for an award by the chief of Punjab police.

On Monday, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, the first woman to be chief minister of a Pakistani province, took her oath as the head of Punjab’s province assembly.

In her inaugural address, she highlighted Naqvi’s actions: “I want to praise the lady officer who has saved the life of a woman.”

Police have not made any arrests of those involved in the mob aggression, while the victim gave a video statement apologizing for causing offence.

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