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Christian teenager arrested for blasphemy in Pakistan

He was arrested after a Facebook photo he liked offended his Muslim friend

ucanews.com reporter, Karachi

ucanews.com reporter, Karachi

Published: September 21, 2016 11:20 AM GMT

Updated: September 21, 2016 11:28 AM GMT

Christian teenager arrested for blasphemy in Pakistan

Muslim pilgrims from all around the world circle around the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque, in the Saudi city of Mecca on Sept. 14. A Pakistani Christian teenager was arrested for liking on Facebook an allegedly disparaging photo of this holy Islamic shrine. (Photo by AFP)

A Christian teenager was arrested in Pakistan for "hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims" for liking an allegedly disparaging photo of a holy Islamic shrine on Facebook.

Nabeel Masih, 16, a resident of Bhai Pheru town in Pakistan's Punjab province, was arrested on Sept. 18 under the country's blasphemy law after his Muslim friend, Akhtar Ali filed a complaint.

In his charge, Ali said that he spotted a derogatory photo of the Holy Kaaba, a shrine at the center of Islam's most sacred mosque in Mecca and one of Islam's holiest sites, when he viewed Masih's Facebook page.

"After seeing the picture of the Kaaba we were offended and hurt," he said in his police complaint, a copy of which was made available to ucanews.com.

"The accused has hurt the sentiments of Muslims by desecrating the Kaaba and we demand police initiate action against him," he said.

According to local media, Masih's family has gone into hiding fearing a backlash from extremists.

Cecil Chaudhry, executive director of the Pakistani Bishops' National Commission for Justice and Peace, condemned the arrest.

"We are at loss to find what actually defines blasphemy," he said. "Years of brainwashing have made people very intolerant and now people are making their own definitions. Police must be held accountable for booking such cases without proper investigations. People who handle these incidents must be properly trained."

Father Bonnie Mendes, a former Regional Coordinator of Caritas Asia, stressed the need to create awareness regarding religious sensitivities.

"The responsibility lies with both the media and the government to broaden the narrow-minded approach prevalent in society," he said. "Being emotional and fueling anger will not help the country."

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Blasphemy is a highly sensitive issue in Pakistan and a mere allegation can trigger mob violence.

The latest arrest comes weeks before Pakistan's top court hears the appeal of Catholic woman, Asia Bibi who was sentenced to death for drinking water meant for her Muslim colleagues in 2010.

Former governor Salmaan Taseer and Christian minister Shahbaz Bhatti were assassinated for speaking out against the misuse of blasphemy laws in the wake of Bibi's arrest and sentencing.

Pakistan's independent human rights commission said that 22 people including four Christians and three Ahmadis were booked under blasphemy laws last year.

Blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed carries a mandatory death sentence in Pakistan. The state has not carried out any executions for those convicted, but a number of people have been killed, some in prison or before their trial ended.

Blasphemy against the Quran is punishable with life imprisonment. Church leaders have long charged that the laws are abused for personal gain and that religious extremists are furthering their agenda by abusing blasphemy laws.

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