20 February 2018
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  • » 01/08/2016, 00.00

    PAKISTAN

    Young Muslim man who burnt copies of the Bible and sacred hymns arrested in Kasur

    Shafique Khokhar

    ​Akba Azhar, 26, originally from Sialkot, broke into a church and burnt sacred books. Discovered, he tried to flee but was captured by a group of worshippers. Police say that he cannot be tried because he suffers from mental problems. Local Christians disagree, insisting that he is of sound mind.

    Kasur (AsiaNews) - A young Muslim man of 26 years was arrested for setting fire to copies of the Bible and to books containing sacred hymns.

    The incident occurred on Wednesday afternoon, at the Victory Church in Kasur, a city of nearly 250,000 people about 60 km from Lahore, in Pakistan's Punjab province.

    In November 2014, the area was the scene of a brutal attack on a young Christian couple, parents of four children, who were stoned to death and then burnt alive by an angry mob, incited by an imam after allegations of blasphemy were made against the victims.

    According to police, the arsonist, Akba Azhar, suffers from mental problems and therefore cannot be held liable for his actions. Local Christians conversely believe that he is of sound mind and has the capacity to think, reason, and understand for himself.

    Two days ago, the day of Epiphany, a group of Christians went to church to pray and saw a young man next to the remains of burnt Bibles and other holy books.

    Realising that he had been discovered, Azhar Akba, originally from Sialkot, tried to flee but was surrounded by several men and brought back into the building.

    The Christian worshippers called police, who arrived at the scene and took the young man into custody. Some children recognised him because, the night before the arson, he had played with them in the courtyard adjacent to the church.

    Christians filed their complaint in accordance with the blasphemy rule against burning of sacred texts.

    Police began their investigation, but said little about the evidence, if any, they collected or possible charges until they decided to drop the case saying that the young man appears to suffer from mental problems, and thus cannot be tried (conversely, mentally disabled Christians were indicted in alleged blasphemy cases).

    Many local Christians disagree, noting that the young man was of sound mind and fully capable to thinking, reasoning, and understanding for himself when he decided to burn the sacred texts.

    Speaking to AsiaNews, Rojar Noor Alam, a Pakistani human rights activist, condemned the Bible burning, saying that the culprit should be pursued as required by law.

    Religious leaders, he added, "must play a leading role in maintaining harmony and avoiding sectarian events of this kind."

    For Aila Gill, coordinator of the National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Church of Pakistan (NCJP), the incident is the result of the prevailing climate of intolerance.

    "The state,” he added, “must intervene because it is its duty to protect minorities’ places of worship under Article 36 of the Constitution."

    With a population of more than 180 million people (97 per cent Muslim), Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world, the second largest Muslim nation after Indonesia.

    About 80 per cent of Muslims are Sunni, whilst Shias are 20 per cent. Hindus are 1.85 per cent, followed by Christians (1.6 per cent) and Sikhs (0.04 per cent).

    Scores of violent incidents have occurred in recent years, against entire communities (Gojra in 2009, and Joseph Colony, Lahore, in March 2013), places of worship (Peshawar, September 2013) and individuals ( Sawan MasihAsia BibiRimsha Masih and Robert Fanish Masih, who died in prison), often perpetrated under the pretext of the country's blasphemy laws.

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