Christian protesters, police clash in Pakistan

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Police have taken the Christian man accused of blasphemy into custody pending an investigation. Those who attacked the Christian neighborhood are also being investigated for a range of offenses, including arson, robbery and insulting the feelings of the Christian community, said Mr. Rehman, the police official.

Akram Gill, a bishop in the Lahore Christian community, said the incident had more to do with personal enmity between the two men involved than blasphemy. He said the men got into a brawl after drinking late one night, and in the morning the Muslim man made up the blasphemy story as payback.

Once an accusation is made, it’s difficult to get it reversed, partly because law enforcement officials and politicians do not want to be seen as being soft on blasphemers.

Two prominent politicians were assassinated in 2011 for urging reform of the law. The killer of one of the politicians was hailed as a hero, and lawyers at his legal appearances showered him with rose petals.

According to Human Rights Watch, there are at least 16 people on death row in Pakistan for blasphemy and another 20 are serving life sentences.

While Muslims frequently are accused of blasphemy, members of Pakistan’s small Christian community are especially vulnerable to the accusations. Christians make up less than 5 percent of Pakistan’s 180 million people and many hold low-paying jobs, such as cleaning and street sweeping.

Last year, there was a rare reversal of a blasphemy case against a teenage Christian girl with suspected mental disabilities who was accused of burning pages of the Quran. She was released after a huge domestic and international outcry about her treatment. A local Muslim cleric was arrested and accused of planting the pages in her bag to incriminate her, a rare example of the accuser facing legal consequences. However, he was later freed on bail.

• Associated Press writers Rasool Dawar in Peshawar and Adil Jawad in Karachi, Pakistan, contributed to this article.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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