05/17/2014, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Accused of blasphemy, man killed in police station

by Jibran Khan
A 15-year-old boy is the murderer. The issue began when the dead man complained against a shopkeeper who had displayed a sign with derogatory remarks about Ahmadis. The latter responded by filing a formal complaint.

Lahore (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Accused of blasphemy, Khalil Ahmad, 65, was killed yesterday by gunshots inside a police station by a 15-year-old boy, in Sharaqpur village, near Lahore, Punjab.

The incident began when Ahmad and three other people complained to a shopkeeper who had displayed a sign with derogatory comments about Ahmadis, an Islamic minority considered heretical by mainstream Muslims.

The shopkeeper refused to comply and after a heated argument made a formal complaint of blasphemy against Khalil Ahmed. Arrested last Tuesday, the father of four was taken to Sharaqpur police station.

Yesterday evening, a young man presented himself to police, asked to see Ahmad, and as the latter approached, shot him. He was arrested by police.

The incident is yet another example of the 'black law' at work adopted in 1986 by then dictator Zia-ul-Haq to satisfy the Islamist demands.

The 'law' imposes life in prison or the death sentence on anyone who desecrates the Qur'an or insults the name of the prophet Muhammad.

As a result, religious minorities are constantly intimated, including Ahmadis. Formally declared as 'non-Muslims' in 1984, many of them have been arrested for reading verses of the Qur'an or having them engraved on rings. In 2010, 86 of them were killed in two simultaneous attacks in Lahore.

Over the years, the so-called black law has come to be used as a tool to settle personal scores or to use in business disputes. It has also been used to seize assets that belong to members of religious minorities. Indeed, the number of cases has grown exponentially, from one in 2001 to 80 in 2011.

In many cases, like that of Khalil Ahmad, disputes end in murder. Just last week for example, lawyer Rashid Rehman Khan, a prominent human rights advocate involved in the legal defence of a university professor accused of blasphemy, was himself shot dead. On a previous occasion, he had been threatened in a courtroom by fellow lawyers.

Likewise, earlier in the week, 68 lawyers were accused of blasphemy in Jhang District, Punjab. Mostly Shia, the lawyers had taken to the streets to protest against the police for arresting without reason one of their colleagues.

As a result of the rally, the lawyers were accused of insulting the name of a close relative of Muhammad in what is for all intents and purposes a bitter dispute between police and members of the legal profession.

Following the latest incidents, human rights organisations Life for All Pakistan and the Masih Foundation have announced intention to stage protest rallies in Lahore to express solidarity with the Ahmadi community.

For Fr John Aslam, a clergyman from the Diocese of Lahore, what happened to Khalil Ahmad was tragic, the third blasphemy case in two weeks.

The victim, the priest, said "was falsely accused and fell prey to the extremist mind-set. A teenager killed without even asking whether he had committed blasphemy or not. A simple discussion over blasphemy led to an extreme reaction. The man was in police custody. Not letting the courts decide the fate of defendants and taking the law in your hands in the name of religion is insanity."

Even Muslim scholar Abid Ali condemned the incident, saying that "this case shows that the police is helpless and [that it] failed to protect an accused. Killing an innocent in the name of religion is unacceptable. Religious minorities have the right to practice their beliefs".

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