Pakistan lawyers charged en masse with blasphemy
Total of 68 charged over their support for fellow lawyer
Police in the Jhang district of Punjab province opened a blasphemy case on Sunday against 68 lawyers after they staged a protest last week against a police officer.
The police complaint stated that the protesting lawyers had insulted Caliph Umar bin Khattab – according to Islamic history, a close companion of the Prophet Mohammed – while they were demonstrating outside a district police station.
The protesters were demanding the sacking of Station House Officer Umar Daraz, for illegally detaining and beating one of their colleagues.
Daraz shares the same name as the respected Caliph, and the complainant's case asserts that the protesters used derogatory language against the Caliph himself.
In response, the District Bar Assocation has announced a three-day strike.
“Our protest will continue unless the blasphemy case is withdrawn,” Akhtar Khan Baloch, general secretary of the bar association, told ucanews.com, adding that the allegations were baseless and fabricated.
Another lawyer told ucanews.com that some of the protesters are Shia Muslims and the complainant, Arshad Mahmood, is a member of the anti-Shia group Sipah Sahaba Pakistan, so the blasphemy charges are vindictive and aimed solely at harming Shias.
Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Pakistan, where mere allegations can trigger riots. Last week, human rights activist Rashid Rehman was shot dead in his office for defending a man accused of blasphemy in Multan.
A former Punjab governor, Salman Taseer, and Catholic National Assembly minister Shahbaz Bhatti were assassinated for speaking out against the blasphemy law.
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