PAKISTAN: A Christian labourer arrested on blasphemy charge

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – Case: AHRC-UAC-242-2011

PAKISTAN: A Christian labourer arrested on blasphemy charges in an attempt to convert his girlfriend to Islam; Religious minority groups; blasphemy law; illegal arrest; arbitrary detention; fabricated charge

7 December 2011: The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that a young Christian labourer was arrested on the charges of burning papers of Quran, a Muslim holy book for making tea at home. He surrendered to the court arrest when he was informed that his nephew had been taken into custody by the police in exchange of his arrest. A Muslim mob is protesting and has surrounded the houses of Christians after an announcement was made from the loudspeakers of different mosques. One hospital also came under attack due to presence of some Christians who were admitted there. It is alleged the Muslim neighbours of the victim were forcing his girl friend to convert to Islam otherwise she would be arrested on fornication charges and intentional rape and she would face death by stoning.

The Christian population of Haroonabad Dherh is in danger by the attack of extremists. Around 800 Christians are living in the area and there are more than half a dozen churches in the community and there are chances that they will be attacked at any moment.

CASE NARRATIVE:

Khuram Sunny (24), son of Mr. Rasheed Masih, a resident of Majeed Park Muhalla Peer Bazar Shahdara Town Lahore, capital of Punjab province, was living with his girl friend who was Hindu by religion. He was working in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province, where he fell in love with Ms. Rehana Bano. Their parents were not ready to agree to the marriage which compelled the couple to migrate to Lahore. He was staying in a rented one room house which was owned by Zulfiqar Ali, in Majeed Park Mohalla, a Muslim dominated community. Sunny was daily wage earner and working in a marble crushing factory from morning to night. In his absence the Muslim neighbours, particularly the female members of Zulfiqar family attempted to convert Bano to Islam and when she showed reluctance she was blackmailed by the Muslim neighbours into complaining to the police that they were living out of wedlock. She was told that she would be booked on charges of fornication, adultery and rape and that she would get the death sentence. It was strongly hinted that she would face death by stoning. On the day of the incident, 5 December, she was forced to call police via the emergency number 115 and complain that Sunny had made the tea by burning pages torn from the Quran.

The police came immediately and took Sunny’s nephew into custody as a hostage for his surrender. At 2.30 pm Sunny went to the police station to inquire about the case where he was arrested on the charges of blasphemy under the 295 B of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). His arrest was announced at 5 pm and at 7 pm all the mosques of the community through the loudspeakers’ announcement instigated the Muslim population that Khuram Sunny has burnt the pages of the Quran for making tea. More than 1000 persons gathered outside the Shahdra town police station and demanded that Sunny be handed over to them so that they could kill him according to Islamic teachings.

The police have not followed the procedure to file case of blasphemy which made compulsory that no police officer below the level of Superintendent of Police can investigate charges of blasphemy but this was totally ignored. It seems that police was complicit in the incident as the victim was arrested at 2.30 and mosques were informed after five hours of his arrest.

It is apprehended by the Christian community that Rehana Bano, the girl friend of the victim, would be forced to become a witness against Sunny.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

Militant Muslim organizations are using blasphemy laws as the best way to keep religious minority groups under pressure and even forcibly take land. The state is failing to protect the lives and property of minority communities. The blasphemy law has made it compulsory that no police officer below the level of Superintendent of Police can investigate the charges but this is rarely adhered to.

Recent cases in Pakistan suggest a criminal collaboration among government authorities, police, and fundamentalist organizations, in which the Muslim clergy, receiving bribes from land-grabbers in the National and Provincial Assemblies, colluded with local police to expropriate land owned by minorities by bringing blasphemy allegations against them. The situation is especially worrying in Punjab province after the formation of the PML-N government, which has a record of intolerant policies against Christians and Ahmadis in particular.

According to data compiled by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and cited by the U.S. State Department, a total of 695 people were accused of blasphemy in Pakistan between 1986 and April 2006. Of those, 362 were Muslims, 239 were Ahmadis, 86 were Christians, and 10 were Hindus. A Pakistani daily newspaper, Dawn, has reported that some 5,000 cases were registered between 1984 and 2004, and 964 people were charged with blasphemy. The religious breakdown of the defendants was similar to that cited by the State Department. The population of Pakistan is estimated at 173 million people, and according to the 1998 census, 97 percent of the population is Muslim; most are Sunni Muslims, with Shiite Muslims accounting for about 20 percent. The remaining 3 percent of the population is made up of Hindus, Christians, Ahmadis, Parsis, and Baha’is.

From these figures, it is clear that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are used prolifically and applied disproportionately to non-Muslims. Although many other countries have laws against blasphemy, the situation in Pakistan is unique in its severity and its particular effects on religious minorities.

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – Case: AHRC-UAC-242-2011.

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