LAHORE: Batapur police have been illegally detaining the secretary general of an Ahl-e-Hadis (AH) mosque committee since Saturday, after Ahl-e-Sunnat (AS) residents of this border village threatened violence if he were not arrested for allegedly burning pages of the Holy Quran, The Express Tribune has learnt.
Heavy protests erupted in Batapur on October 3 after residents found pages of the Holy Quran in a burning pile of garbage near the local AS mosque. The police then registered an FIR against unnamed accused under section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code, which deals with blasphemy.
The mostly AS residents of Batapur held protests and threatened to attack the AH mosque and houses in the village. On Saturday, police took 49-year-old Shahid Hussain Butt, the secretary general of Jamia Mosque, Ahl-e-Hadis, Jallo Mor, his business partner Sheikh Shahid and their employee Nawazish into custody. But their names have not been included in the record of arrests, they have not been charged with anything nor produced before a court.
Butt’s family said he was innocent and had been framed by men who owed him money. Ahl-e-Sunnat members are keeping up pressure on the police, threatening to kill AH followers and burn their houses if Butt is not nominated in the blasphemy FIR.
A heavy police contingent guarded the AH mosque all night on Sunday after it received reports that AS people intended to attack the house of worship. There were no attacks overnight, but AS clerics printed pamphlets and made announcements via loudspeaker calling a meeting at the Jamia Masjid Yadgar Shuhada, Jallo Mor on Monday.
More than a hundred people participated in the meeting, including Inspector Aftab Hashmi, the investigator of the case. In his presence, AS speakers urged the participants to prepare for revenge. They warned that if the police did not nominate the arrested men in the FIR, they would kill the wives and children and burn the houses of AH followers.
The inspector asked the participants not to take any step for two days, as their demands would be met by Thursday. The meeting was chaired by Maulana Sayed Yousaf Shah, president of the Central Milad Council, Jallo Mor.
A 10-member committee was set up to keep up pressure on the police during the investigation process. Among the members of the committee are a journalist, a lawyer and a doctor. Haji Muhammad Yasin, a member of the committee, told The Express Tribune that AS people feared that the police would favour Butt. He said only 20 percent of Batapur residents were AH followers, and the AS would “burn their houses and kill their families for the sake of Islam if the police do not meet our demands”.
Inspector Hashmi, who is investigating the case, denied that Butt had been arrested. He said that the police were investigating the matter and trying to find “the real culprits”.
Another official at the police station, on condition of anonymity, told The Express Tribune that Butt would likely be nominated in the blasphemy FIR while Sheikh Shahid and Nawazish would be released in exchange for agreeing to testify (act as approvers) against Butt.
Yasin said he, too, had heard that the police would release Shahid and Nawazish. He said they were probably innocent, but objected to their release because he suspected that the two would change their testimony to favour Butt if the case went to court.
Rai Sarfaraz Khan, a headmaster at a government high school and vice president of the AH mosque committee, said Butt prayed five times a day and was the most active member of the AH mosque committee.
Yasin said though Butt was known to be very religious, he could think of three reasons that could have made him commit blasphemy. “He could have tried to burn the Holy Quran to learn black magic. Secondly, maybe he tried to create a rift within the AS by burning it near our mosque. Or he could have an affiliation with some foreign agency and be following their agenda to defame Muslims in their own country.”
He said he had no personal grudge against the accused.
Abid Hassan Butt, Shahid Butt’s older brother, told The Express Tribune that Yasin and Dr Malik Iftikhar, both members of the AS committee announced at Monday’s meeting, framed his brother. He said that Butt had recently demanded rent for a shop at the mosque where Iftikhar had set up a clinic. He had not paid rent for three years, said Abid Butt.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 13th, 2010.