02/11/2022, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Hindu school principal sentenced to 25 years in prison on blasphemy charges

by Shafique Khokhar

According to a student, Notan Lal insulted the Prophet Muhammad in 2019. For Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Pakistan’s blasphemy “laws are poorly defined and require low standards for evidence”.

Sukkur (AsiaNews) – A Pakistani court sentenced the principal of a Hindu high school to 25 years in prison for blasphemy. This followed accusations made by a student in 2019.

Notan Lal, the owner and principal of a private school in Ghotki, Sindh province, was charged under Section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code.

Under this article, the “Use of derogatory remarks, spoken, written, directly or indirectly, etc. [that] defiles the name of Muhammad or other Prophet(s)” is deemed a criminal offence.

The principal, who according to his accuser insulted Muhammad during an Urdu class, was also fined 50,000 Pakistani rupees (US$ 285).

The accuser's father filed the first complaint, sparking sectarian violence throughout Ghotki district, resulting in attacks against and looting of Hindu shops, temples and schools.

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Pakistan's blasphemy legislation criminalises anyone who offends religious sentiment, imposing the death penalty or life imprisonment on those found guilty of insulting Islam or its prophet.

“These laws are poorly defined and require low standards for evidence,” CSW writes on its website. “As a result, they are often used as a weapon of revenge against both Muslims and non-Muslims to settle personal scores or to resolve disputes over money, property or business.

In Pakistan, the resulting violence has had an impact on all minority communities. Last December, a mob of fanatics killed Priyantha Diyawadana, a Sri Lankan Buddhist, after he was accused by fellow workers of desecrating posters bearing the name of the Prophet Muhammad. It was later revealed that he was falsely accused in order to settle a personal score.

For CSW's founding president Mervyn Thomas, the harsh sentence imposed on Notan Lal is of great concern.

In a statement, he noted that the school principal “is the latest victim of Pakistan’s unjust blasphemy laws, which are wholly incompatible with the fundamental right to freedom of religion or belief and which must be reviewed urgently, with a view to their full repeal in future.”

In light of this, “We call for Mr Lal’s immediate and unconditional release, and for that of all those imprisoned or detained on similar charges.”

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