07/04/2005, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Police fail to uphold amended Blasphemy Law

Qaiser Felix
The chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance criticises police following attacks against Christians and Hindus in Noswhera and after a man is arrested for allegedly desecrating the Qu'ran.

Noswhera (AsiaNews) – In arresting Yousaf Masih for allegedly desecrating the Qu'ran, the police failed to uphold the recent amendments made by Pakistan's parliament to the country's Blasphemy Law, this according to Shahbaz Bhatti, chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA).

In an interview with AsiaNews, Mr Bhatti called for Masih's immediate release and condemned the attacks that took place against Hindus and Christians in the city of Nowshera after the man's arrest on June 28.

On the same day, a Muslim mob burnt down the Hindu Lamba Vera temple and ransacked nearby Christian and Hindu homes in a town 40 km east of Peshawar (North-West Frontier Province).

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) reported that some 70 Hindu and Christian women and children fled their homes in Lal Kurthi, near Noswhera, fearing for their lives after the temple was torched; they have not yet returned.

Yousaf Masih, 60, a sweeper by profession, was asked to burn some garbage and papers. Among the waste to be disposed, there were some verses of the Qu'ran. However, being illiterate, Mr Masih could not know what he had to destroy.

"The blasphemy case against Yousaf Masih is baseless," Mr Bhatti said. "Police registered the case [. . .] without any investigation or proof, which clearly proves the growing misuse of Blasphemy law in Pakistan."

The Blasphemy Law refers to sections b and c of article 295 in Pakistan's Penal Code. The first one refers to offences against the Qu'ran and carry life sentences; the second one involves defamatory actions against the prophet Muhammad that are punishable by the death penalty.

For the APMA chairman, bringing blasphemy charges "against Yousaf Masih without any investigation and proof contradicts and negates the government announcement last year about bringing procedural amendments to the blasphemy law".

In October 2004, parliament had amended the law in order to avoid abuses. Under the amended law, the police is required to investigate allegations before charging and arresting anyone.

Under the previous rules, suspects could be picked up without prior investigation.

Bhatti said many Christians and members of other religious minorities have been incarcerated under the Blasphemy Law and some have even been killed extra judicially.

His concern for Yousaf Masih's fate is compounded by the latter's heart condition.

"Police, local administration and the government of NWFP will be [held] directly responsible in case any harm or mishap comes to him in police custody," Bhatti warned.

Mr Masih is currently detained in Peshawar's Central Prison.

Mr Bhatti has appealed to Pakistan's Prime Minister for Masih's release; he has also called for the protection of his life, that of his family, and that of Christians and other religious minorities in Nowshera.

Ghur Saran Lal, a Hindu Member of the local Provincial Assembly, also expressed his concern over the temple attack.

So far the police has arrested 13 people for the attack; another 148 were detained for possession of a deadly weapon, whilst another 149 were arrested for unlawful assembly.

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