Police in Muslim-majority Pakistan tortured a 9-year-old Christian boy accused of burning the Quran while he and his mother were detained for four days, reveals the London-based charity British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA).
In a move described as unprecedented by the charity, the Pakistani authorities dropped the blasphemy charges against them after some human rights activists and politicians in the country intervened and joined forces to secure their release four days after they were arrested on October 21.
They “narrowly escaped a blasphemy law death sentence,” notes the BPCA.
On October 21, the boy, identified as Izhan, “and his mother Shakil, who works as a nurse at a nearby hospital, were arrested without the police conducting an investigation into the allegations provided by a Muslim witness,” reports the Christian Post (CP), citing the BPCA.
“A Muslim witness is given higher authority than non-Muslim testimonies under sharia law, these are Islamic laws that determine Pakistani law,” explains the London charity.
BPCA identifies the child and his mother by one name only. Pakistani police arrested Izhan soon after being accused of setting Islam’s holy book ablaze on October 20 in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s Balochistan province.
Terrorism experts have described the provincial capital as an Afghan Taliban stronghold in Pakistan. Balochistan borders southern Afghanistan, also a Taliban bastion.
BPCA reports that the mother and child “have expressed in no uncertain terms that they had been interrogated and suffered torture during their 4 day detainment.”
“However despite their treatment they both did not confess to the crime of blasphemy,” it adds. “Moreover, Police have confirmed that no evidence of any alleged [Quran] desecration was found.”
Pakistani lawmakers and the leadership of the Sunni political party Jamiat Ulema Islam (F) played a significant role in revoking the charges against the boy and his mother, reports the Pakistan Christian Post, securing their release.
Asiya Nasir, a Christian member of Pakistan’s National Assembly; William John Barkat, a member of the Provincial Assembly of Balochistan; and activist Shahzad Kundan, also played an instrumental role in aiding the accused child and his mother.
In a statement, BPCA Chairman Wilson Chowdhry told the Christian Post:
This is the first blasphemy charge, in my recollection, that has been dropped. The law states that bail does not apply for blasphemy charges and that crimes once registered should be [tried] in court. There is no room for the dropping of charges. This unusual situation is the result of serious campaigning by groups such as the BPCA and politicians such as Asiya Nasir and her Muslim colleagues.
Working with other human rights advocates, BPCA officers spent four days following the arrest of the boy and his mother on October 21 urging the police to release them, notes CP.
The fact that Muslim politicians joined forces with Christians was influential because in Muslim society, the strength of a witness testimony from a Muslim has more authority than that of a Christian. There is no doubt in my mind that police were influenced by this. If more Muslim politicians were willing to support Christians in this way many lives could be saved from the ignominy of blasphemy charges. That said, the fervent support shown by Muslim politicians during this incident could be an indication of a seed change in the way that the Muslim community views the application of blasphemy laws.
Izhan could have faced the death penalty for blasphemy.
“As with many other blasphemy cases, news of the arrest stirred up tensions between the local Muslim and Christian communities,” points out the Christian Post, referring to Izhan and Shakil. “Fortunately, local police protected the Christian community from threats and the formation of a Muslim mob.”
“In Pakistan, law courts are known for their manipulation of laws which are used as a tool discriminate minorities,” noted the Pakistan Christian Post last month.
The persecution of the Christian minority in Pakistan, a U.S. ally, has intensified in recent weeks.
Last month, the government of Bahawalpur, one of the most populous cities in the country, banned Christians from gathering in houses to worship or pray. Meanwhile, mobs of Muslim extremists have called for the lynching of two imprisoned Christians accused of violating the country’s strict blasphemy law — Nabeel Masih, 16, and Asia Bibi, 46.
Both are facing death sentences.