DERA GHAZI KHAN: As the controversy about the blasphemy laws heats up, a court in DG Khan has jailed the imam of a mosque and his son for life for what has been construed as blasphemy.
Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) Judge Roy Ayub Marth also handed down a fine of Rs220,000 each to Muhammad Shafi, 45, and his son Muhammad Aslam, 20, on blasphemy charges.
The life term and a fine of Rs200,000 has been handed down under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), which deals with the use of derogatory remarks, etc, about the Holy Prophet (pbuh).
In addition, the two have been jailed for 10 years and fined Rs10,000 each under Section 295-A of the PPC, which deals with disrespecting or intending to disrespect other religions or faiths.
Both of them have also been jailed for five years and handed down a fine of Rs10,000 per person under Section 7-G of the Anti-Terrorism Act.
A case was registered against the pair at the Daira Din Panah police station in Muzaffargarh district. They were arrested in April last year for removing a poster outside their grocery shop, advertising an Islamic event in a nearby village commemorating Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) birth anniversary.
Judge Marth’s assistant Faisal Karim told AFP by phone that according to the prosecution, the organiser of the event Haji Phool Muhammad said that the pair had “pulled the poster down, tore it and trampled it under their feet.”
“The judge sentenced them to life imprisonment on charges of blasphemy and ordered them to pay a fine of Rs200,000 each,” Karim confirmed.
Defence counsel Arif Gurmani vowed to challenge the verdict in the high court because “it has been given in haste” and was the result of inter-faith rivalries, he said.
“Both are Muslim. The case is the result of differences between Deobandi and Barelvi sects,” he said. Haji Phool Muhammad belongs to the Barelvi sect while Shafi and Aslam belong to the Deobandi sect.
“Shafi is a practising Muslim, he is the imam of a mosque and he had recently returned from a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia … I am defending them because I am convinced they are not guilty of blasphemy,” he said.
On the other hand, Haji Phool Muhammad expressed dissatisfaction with the court’s ruling. Speaking to The Express Tribune, he said the accused should have been given the death sentence instead of life imprisonment.
The blasphemy law is at the centre of a controversy, with rights groups and liberals saying that the law has been used by extremists and commoners to settle personal score.
However, religious parties say the law is sacrosanct and it cannot be changed, let alone repealing it.
Clerics on Tuesday threatened their Christian compatriots “to avoid becoming a party” in the matter. The warning came a day after Pope Benedict XVI called on the Pakistani government to scrap the controversial law.
Top leaders from Deobandi and Barelvi schools of thought warned the Vatican against, what they called, interference in Islamic issues.
“Christians (living in Pakistan) must not try to become a party in the blasphemy matters,” said a statement issued on Tuesday by an umbrella organisation of over 12,000 Deobandi seminaries.
“This law guarantees the protection of not only Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) respect but also of Prophet Issa (Jesus Christ),” said the statement from the Wafaqul Madaris Al-Arabia (WMA).
“Minorities will be more unprotected in the absence of this law. That’s why Europe must stop issuing statements on the basis of their superficial knowledge,” it added.
Clerics from the WMA also advised the Pope against what they think is an attempt to trigger a clash of civilisations. Don’t try to push the world into chaos and confrontation, they warned the Pope.
In Lahore, Jamaat-i-Islami took out a rally against the Pope’s remarks, calling it “direct intervention” in “one of the fundamentals of Muslims’ faith.”
Separately, a top Barelvi leader said he expects Pakistani Christians to stay away from calls from outside the country to scrape the blasphemy law.
“Otherwise, there is going to be further chaos in the society,” the cleric told The Express Tribune by phone from Faisalabad and requesting anonymity.
Additional reporting by Zia Khan in Islamabad and AFP
Published in The Express Tribune, January 12th, 2011.