Hero police officer who saved woman from mob: 'It has made society question itself'

A female police officer hailed a hero for protecting a woman from an angry mob has told Sky News the case has made Pakistani society question itself.

Syeda Shehrbano, an assistant superintendent in Lahore, stepped in to save the woman from a crowd of 200 men, some of whom were calling for her to be beheaded.

The crowd had mistaken the print on the woman's dress for verses from the Koran - it was only later confirmed by clerics and scholars to be Arabic script for the word "beautiful".

Blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan and there have been many cases of people being murdered before they even reach a trial.

Ms Shehrbano was captured pleading with the mob to "trust us" before covering the woman in a black robe and gold headscarf and pushing through the crowd to lead her to safety.

She was honoured for her bravery by the police inspector general for Punjab province, who said she had "put her life in danger" to help the woman.

Speaking to Sky News presenter Yalda Hakim on Monday, Ms Shehrbano said she hoped the incident would be the last of its type, "at least in Pakistan".

"The most important thing is that it has made the society question itself because the four- or five-minute walk that I took from the main road until I reached that area (where the woman was) is a bustling bazaar.

"It's a bazaar full of people, it's a bazaar full of customers in multiple shops, so people were going on with their daily activities all the while knowing there is a woman surrounded by around 200 people ready to be lynched.

"That's the question that is going to be posed on the society's consciousness, on its conduct and how it has degenerated and why it has degenerated to such an extent.

"Now people have started asking: 'If 200 people can be ready to lynch her, why can't 600 be ready to protect her?'"

Ms Shehrbano appeared uncomfortable with being described as a hero, saying: "This is too big of a question for me to answer... people around me would be a better judge of this.

"It could have escalated, yes; my own life was in danger, yes, there's no doubt about that.

"The team which was present on the ground - their lives were in danger, there's no doubt about that. But there are certain things you have to do in the line of duty and at times you have to go beyond that line of duty.

"Our lives, when we're in such a situation, they become pretty secondary and not so important, because the life of the victim is at stake, the image of the country is at stake."

Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was sentenced to death in Pakistan in 2010 after being accused of defaming the Prophet Muhammad, saw the video and told Sky News it reminded her of what happened to her.

She was acquitted in 2018 and later fled the country.

She told Yalda Hakim: "After viewing that scene, my own incident crossed my mind - the way I was arrested and lost my senses.

"Similarly, the same scenario was with that young girl.

"The dress she wore at the time had some Arabic words printed on it but the mob thought it was the Koranic verses.

"It's Arabic-speaking people's dress fashion - we Pakistanis should verify something first before taking any action."