1 Feb 2009

Blasphemy Charges For Man And Four Children

Press Release: Asian Human Rights Commission January 31, 2009

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

Blasphemy Charges For Man And Four Children

PAKISTAN: Four children and one man have been arbitrarily arrested and charged with blasphemy at the request of Muslim radicals

Five persons belonging to the Ahmadi sect of Islam, four of them children, have been arrested for desecrating the name of the last prophet of Islam (peace be upon him), and charged under a law that can only be met with the death penalty. The children were accused of writing the name of the Prophet Muhammad on the walls of a toilet of a mosque in Punjab province, and are being accused of blasphemy.

According to our reports, the boys are students from grades nine and ten of the Superior Academy, Chak no. 172, TDA in Layyah district. They are Muhammad Irfan (14), son of Muhammad Mukhtar, Tahir Imran (16), son of Abdul Ghaffar, Tahir Mehmood (14), son of Muhammad Aslam and Naseer Ahmed (14), son of Nasrullah. A Mr Mubashar Ahmed, 45 has also been arrested.

The five were taken from their houses on the night of January 28, 2009 and taken into custody. Raiding police officials told their families that they would just be detained for 24 hours to appease a number of Muslim fundamentalists, who had recently renewed the long-waged ideological assault on members of the Ahmadi sect, a minority sect of Islam (also known as Qadiani sect). Sect members claims to be Muslim, but were constitutionally removed from the religion in Pakistan in 1974, partly due to their following of a nineteenth century messiah.

However after four hours in custody, charges were filed against all five under section 295-C, for desecrating the name of the last prophet. After contacting Dr Muhammad Azam, the district police officer (DPO) of Layyah, family members were told that the police were under pressure from fundamentalists to act against the children. If he did not arrest them, Azam said, the group had threatened to close down the whole city and attack the houses of Ahmedi sect members. Worried about civilian deaths, the officer arrested the children.

The registered complainant in the case is a Mr Liaquat, who has reported seeing the name of Muhammad (peace be upon him) on the walls of a toilet of Gulzare Madina Mosque in four different places, and scratched into the wall in another. Liaquat concluded that the graffiti must have been a deed of an Ahmadi sect member – a charge agreed with by a Mr. Shahbaz, a government school teacher and a leader of the anti-Ahmadi sect movement. Shabaz implicated the four students, claiming that the graffiti was written under the instruction of Mubashar, the adult accused. No evidence was given, and no investigation done before the five were arrested.

Inspector Khalid Rauf, station head officer (SHO) of Kot Sultan police satation, Layyah district, Punjab province, told the AHRC that police have still not initiated the investigation, but that the gravity of the case against Islam justified arresting the children first. He said the police do not know of any substantial evidence that links the four students with the crime.

Most bemusing, is the fact that the teenagers that were arrested are not students of the Gulzare Madina Mosque, where the graffiti was found, and neither they or Mubashar live anywhere near it. The boys are students of a private English medium school.

According to an Ahmadi spokesperson, a number of attempted assaults and attacks have taken place against sect members in the area, during the last week.

The police have not made any investigation into the threats sent in, to cause harm to Layyah civilians. Neither have they made investigations into the five detainees’ guilt. According to an amendment made by parliament in 2004 in section 295-C of the constitution, police officials are obligated to thoroughly investigate accusations of blasphemy before presenting criminal charges. The aim of this amendment was to reduce the scope of the blasphemy laws, which are still widely and frequently abused, and met with the death penalty.

At this juncture the AHRC would like to question who Pakistan’s police are meant to serve: a few civilian religious groups with little regard for the law, and an agenda of violent persecution? Or do they serve the rule of law and the people of Pakistan? Their actions and admissions in this case point to the former. That children can now be made scapegoats by the police, and high ranking police officers themselves can played with like puppets, is a disgrace to the nation.

The Punjab government has lately claimed to be liberal and progressive. Yet they show little control over the province’s radical religious groups, which flout the law and hold Pakistan society hostage in the name of Islam. When children can be arrested under laws that carry only the death penalty, with no evidence given and no investigation done, there can be no doubt that the systems of this province have broken down.

The AHRC urges the government of President Asif Zardari to immediately release the illegally detained prisoners. Instead they should turn their attention to the dependence of Punjab Police on fundamentalist Islamic groups and the implementation of the rule of law in the province, including the amendment in the blasphemy law made by parliament.

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