09/02/2020, 11.44
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Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, another Christian arrested for blasphemy. The 42nd in a month

by Shafique Khokhar

David Masih is accused of ripping pages from the Quran and throwing them down a drain. The crime of blasphemy is punished with life imprisonment and in some cases with the death sentence. The story of Asia Bibi. At least 80 people, of different faiths, are detained on this charge.

Nowshera (AsiaNews) - On 30 August a Pakistani Christian was arrested on charges of blasphemy in Nowshera (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). It is the 42nd case of its kind recorded in August in the country, a real record according to the Naya Daur (New Era) website.

David Masih's arrest occurred three days after a video - which went viral – was posted on social media showing pages of the Koran being thrown down a drain. Reported to the police by some Muslim inhabitants of his neighbourhood, he allegedly confessed to having torn the pages "to practice witchcraft".

The Pakistani Penal Code states that "anyone who intentionally defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Quran or an extract from it, or uses it in a derogatory manner or for any illegal purpose, will be punished with life imprisonment". In the case of defamation of the Prophet Muhammad (section 295-C), the death sentence is foreseen.

Since 1987, when Pakistan added sections 295-B and 295-C to the blasphemy law, the number of arrests for this crime has increased. According to the National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Pakistani Bishops' Conference, between 1987 and 2018, 776 Muslims, 505 Ahmadis, 229 Christians and 30 Hindus were accused of blasphemy. A striking case is that of Asia Bibi, a Christian sentenced to death for "insulting the Prophet Mohammed", who remained in prison for nine years before being acquitted of all charges in January 2019.

Shabir Shafqat, head of the Christian National Party says blasphemy remains a highly sensitive issue: accusations of this kind can lead to mass lynchings, violent protests and cases of summary justice. In the case of David Masih, he argues that officials must examine the psychological condition of the accused and organize security so that no incidents occur.

Last June, the Christian National Party staged a protest outside the Karachi Press Club for the release of 24 prisoners accused of blasphemy, held in Punjab prisons. According to Naya Daur, 80 people of different faiths are in Pakistani prisons under this charge: 50% are sentenced to death or life in prison; the rest are awaiting a final verdict from the judges.

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