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Sunday, April 21, 2024  
09 Shawwal 1445  

Pakistani courts acquit three minority communities’ members of blasphemy charges

Christian brothers accused of sparking blasphemy riot released: lawyer
People gather at a church building vandalized by protesters in Jaranwala, Pakistan August 16, 2023. Reuters
People gather at a church building vandalized by protesters in Jaranwala, Pakistan August 16, 2023. Reuters

Courts in Pakistan have acquitted at least three minority communities’ members of blasphemy charges on the grounds of insufficient evidence.

Two brothers accused of blasphemous acts that sparked a mob in Pakistan to ransack homes and churches in a Christian enclave last year have been freed from jail, their lawyer said Friday.

They were charged with blasphemy after a violent mob of hundreds ransacked and torched churches, attacked the residences of members of the Christian community, and the office of the local assistant commissioner after the Holy Quran was allegedly desecrated in Jaranwala town of Punjab’s Faisalabad district on August 16, 2023.

The tragedy shocked the entire nation, with caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar saying that those who incited violence against the minority had other goals to achieve.

Police had claimed to have arrested a man identified as Yaseen who used a mosque’s loudspeaker to provoke people to attack the Christian neighborhoods and churches.

While police rounded up more than 125 suspected rioters, they also detained two Christian brothers on suspicion of having desecrated the holy Quran.

But the brothers’ lawyer Tahir Bashir told AFP they had been freed after an anti-terror court declined to bring their case to trial on Thursday.

“Without a trial, no suspect can be detained indefinitely in jail,” Bashir said, declining to publicly name his clients out of fear for their safety.

“They are free, they are with their family. They were very happy to be released,” he added.

An anti-terrorism court in Faisalabad acquitted on Thursday two Christian brothers accused of blasphemy over the Jaranwala riots in August 2023, an organisation for Pakistan’s minority community said.

ATC judge Muhammad Hussain ordered the acquittal of Umar Saleem, also known as Rocky, and Umair Saleem, aka Raja, Barnabas Aid stated in a blog post on Friday.

The report stated that defence lawyer Tahir Bashir told the court that the men were “innocent and there was no evidence against them.”

Sources told Aaj News that the two were acquitted for lack of evidence.

The brothers were charged under sections 295-A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting Its religion or religious beliefs), 295-B (defiling, etc., of Holy Quran), and 295-C (use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

They also charged under Section 9 of the Anti-Terrorism Act which pertains to the “prohibition of acts intended or likely to stir up sectarian hatred.”

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Hindu professor’s acquittal

The Sindh High Court’s Sukkur bench acquitted a Hindu professor of blasphemy charges on the grounds of insufficient evidence, BBC Urdu reported.

In its order, the court pointed out the shortcomings and weaknesses in the police investigation.

The Hindu professor has never been involved in anti-social activities and there was no evidence against him of inciting religious intolerance or using offensive words against anyone, it added.

The case pertained to a 2019 incident when a student accused the professor, who teaches Urdu, of using inappropriate language for Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). The professor apologised to the student, citing that his intentions were not to hurt anyone’s religious sentiments.

But the student had shared it with his father and posted it on Facebook, triggering people. A violent mob had also attacked the school.

Two years ago, a court sentenced him to life and imposed a fine.

The Hindu professor’s family has been living in poverty since the incident. Her daughter told BBC Urdu that they had got some relief from the court, but nothing was clear as her father was not released.

“My father had 30 years of government service. There has never been a case against our family,” she said and added that they have been going through this since 2019. “My 60-year-old father was kept in jail for five years and we have been receiving death threats. My father’s salary is stopped and there is no source of income.

The detailed order stated that the police conducted the investigation in haste that can be gauged from the fact that they completed it in a day. At least 15 witnesses were interrogated, their statements were recorded, and site of incident was visited.

Only five out of the total 15 supported the allegations against the appellant. Their statements almost mirrored each other, the order stated, proving that the statements were pre-determined.

It was the duty of the police to seek more time and effort to investigate it considering the seriousness and sensitivity of the allegation, the order said.

The court also questioned the registration of the FIR. The police neither knew nor was it mentioned in the FIR what the insulting words were, it said and described such action of the police as “gross negligence.”

According to the order, facts should be kept in mind before registering an FIR in such cases as it is the duty of the police to thwart any attempt by any person to create unrest or disturbance in the society.

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