Suspect David (center) allegedly admitted tearing pages out of the Quran. (Photo supplied)
A Christian man has been arrested in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Nowshera under the country’s blasphemy laws, local media reported.
The suspect, identified by police only as David, has been accused of desecrating the Quran, the Islamic holy book, according to the Tribal News Network.
The arrest came a few days after a video went viral on social media platforms showing pages of the Quran in a drain in Risalpur, a city in Nowshera district.
Acting on the complaints of local Muslims, police launched an investigation and arrested David.
David confessed and told investigators that he tore pages out of the Quran to practice witchcraft, the report said.
Blasphemy is a highly sensitive issue in deeply conservative Pakistan where unproven accusations can lead to mob lynchings, vigilante murders and violent protests.
Up to 80 people are known to be imprisoned in Pakistan on blasphemy charges, half of whom face life in prison or the death penalty, according to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Amnesty International last week called for a repeal of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, noting the alarming uptick in blasphemy accusations across the country.
“The broad, vague and coercive nature of the blasphemy laws violate the rights to freedom of religion and belief and of opinion and expression. They have been used to target some of the most marginalized people in society, including children, individuals with mental disabilities, members of religious minorities, and poorer people,” said David Griffiths of Amnesty International.
“Pakistani authorities need no more evidence to see how dangerous the blasphemy laws are — they are abused to make false accusations that can, and have, led to unlawful killings and even whole communities being attacked and their homes burned.”
A Christian man, Sohail Masih, was arrested last month for his critical Facebook comments about the annual Muslim festival Eid al-Adha.
On Aug. 13, police filed a case against actor Saba Qamar and singer Bilal Saeed for shooting a music video in a mosque. The clip was released online and led to large protests in Lahore in which the leaders of religious party Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) promised “vengeance” against the artists.
In October 2018, TLP held large rallies to protest the blasphemy acquittal of Christian farm worker Asia Bibi, effectively shuttering the country for three days.
Both Qamar and Saeed have published statements apologizing on their respective social media accounts, but their lives continue to be at risk.
Police also filed a case against journalist and human rights defender Marvi Sirmed under the blasphemy laws for a tweet she posted on Aug. 22. She has also had a separate complaint registered against her with the Federal Investigative Agency under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act — another piece of legislation that has been criticized for endangering freedom of expression online.
“The fear and violence that often follow a blasphemy accusation make it easy to forget that the people of Pakistan do not have to be beholden to vigilantes who flagrantly abuse these laws. By ignoring the long-standing call to repeal the blasphemy laws, Pakistani authorities continue to create a permissive environment for brutality. But it does not have to be this way," said Griffiths.