05/29/2006, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Without evidence police arrest Christian on blasphemy charges

by Qaiser Felix
A Christian from Karachi is arrested for allegedly sending blasphemous cellphone messages "as revenge for last month's attacks against churches by Muslims." Human rights activists demand that he not be remanded into police custody because too many people die in prison without trial.

Karachi (AsiaNews) – Shabhaz Bhatti, chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), has called on the government to provide Qamar David and his family with protection, to name senior police officers to investigate blasphemy allegations against him, and allow the accused to explain his actions.

Qamar David was arrested on May 24 on blasphemy charges. He is alleged to have sent blasphemous messages to some Muslims via cellphone as revenge for last month's attacks against churches by Muslims.

Khursheed Ahmed, a travel agent, said he received these messages and went to the police to complain. The police, in turn, charged the Christian man under sections 295/A and C of the Pakistan Penal Code.

"I am opposed to remanding David into police custody because he would be tortured and forced to confess whatever they want him to confess," Bhatti told AsiaNews.

"We asked the police to show us the famous messages, but they refused saying only that it was blasphemous. But if he has to be charged, the incriminating text should be made public. Otherwise, David has been arrested without evidence," he explained.

For the APMA chairman, "once more, the law is being misused. The sections of the penal code fail to define blasphemy; anyone can interpret them in accordance with his mentality and understanding,"

In such cases, the sentence can range from 25 years in prison to death.

For years, international human rights groups and Pakistani minorities have criticised the law. In their view, it is an "arbitrary instrument of intimidation".

So far, no one has been sentenced to death on the basis of blasphemy charges, but there have been several "deaths from natural causes" in prisons or murders by extremists that have gone uninvestigated.

In May 2004, Javed Anjum, 23, died from wounds he received during five days of torture at the hands of Muslim extremists who wanted to force him to convert to Islam.

Samuel Masih, 32, was wounded to the head by the police officer who was supposed to protect him. He later died in hospital after being in a coma for a few days.

In 1994, Salamat, Manzoor and Rehmat Masih, respectively 12-, 37- and 42-year-old, were burnt alive in front of the High Court in Lahore where they were on trial for blasphemy. The presiding judge, Arif Iqbal Bhatti, was later assassinated.

In 1992, Tahir Iqbal, a Christian convert from Islam, died in jail from poisoning.

Niamat Ahmer, a teacher, poet and writer, was killed by a group of Muslims who accused him writing blasphemous lines.

Also in 1992, Bantu Masih, 80, was stabbed and killed with police officers present.

Mukhtar Masih, 50, was tortured to death in police custody.

"It's an arbitrary law, which has been badly misused by extremists and should be abolished," human activist Asma Jehangir told the media. "In the meantime, anyone who is charged under it ought to be protected until he gets a fair trial."

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