Sitting cross-legged in a small cell at the Karachi Central Jail, a lean-framed man screams for help every 10 minutes.
“Please, don’t kill me,” he cries, when someone enters the room. For 34-year-old blasphemy accused Saleem Suleman, life, as he knew it, has completely changed.
He was taken to the police by his neighbours after being accused of desecrating the Holy Quran in his apartment in North Nazimabad, Karachi.
A case was lodged against him – the second blasphemy case in Karachi this year.
Suleman, who is from a moderately religious family, lives in Karachi, while his family resides in the United States.
“I did my schooling in the US. Things here were not good financially. I drove a cab for a while but was not able to earn much. So my mother gave me money to set up a shop at a shopping centre,” he said.
However, owing to peer pressure, he soon turned towards drugs, and was unable to concentrate on his business.
Suleman claims he began hearing voices which told him to do things. Burying his face in a chaddar, he says: “God help me. I didn’t mean it.”
On Sunday night, a mob, armed with sticks and stones, lurched towards the Taimuria police station to lynch him, he recalls. But threats to Suleman’s life also come from within the prison. Fearing a backlash from fellow prisoners, the police have placed him in a separate cell along with two officers for his security.
“We have put the militants and those accused of blasphemy under one roof. It will be very difficult to handle the situation,” said a nervous official.
Taimuria police station SHO Kamal Nasim remains doubtful of Suleman’s mental health. “The neighbours brought him to us and did not harm him. But the situation became tense when religious leaders attacked the police station, demanding that Suleman be handed over to them so they could kill him.”
While Nasim claims that the police found torn pages of the Holy Quran from Suleman’s apartment, no other objectionable material was found. The police also did not find any drugs from his apartment.
Psychiatrists are of the view that before the court declares him guilty of blasphemy, a medical board should be formed to examine his mental condition.
“His condition should be evaluated,” said Dr Syed Ali Wasif, a psychiatrist at Ziauddin Hospital in Karachi.
“In a common psychotic illness, people are not in touch with reality. They have hallucinations and delusions in which they consider themselves to be someone else,” he added.
Meanwhile, human rights activist Abdul Hai of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said that the blasphemy law is not applicable to people who suffer from mental illness.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 24th, 2012.