In a development that has stunned many, Pakistan has charged an 8-year-old Hindu boy under the draconian Blasphemy law, which also warrants death penalty to the accused. He was accused of “intentionally urinating in a madrassa library” where religious books were kept, last month.
The boy was taken into “protective custody” and was released on bail after spending a week in jail last week. The boy’s family has gone into hiding and many Hindu residents have fled their homes from the conservative district of Rahim Yar Khan, Punjab after a Muslim mob desecrated a Hindu temple in retribution. On Saturday, 20 people were arrested in connection with the temple attack.
“He is not even aware of such blasphemy issues and he has been falsely indulged in these matters. He still doesn’t understand what his crime was and why he was kept in jail for a week.”
-a member of the boy’s family to The Guardian.
“We have left our shops and work, the entire community is scared and we fear backlash. We don’t want to return to this area. We don’t see any concrete and meaningful action will be taken against the culprits or to safeguard the minorities living here,” the family member added.
The Head of the Pakistani Hindu Council, Ramesh Kumar, said, “The attack on the temple and blasphemy allegations against the eight-year-old minor boy has really shocked me. More than a hundred homes of the Hindu community have been emptied due to fear of attack.”
Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan, has said that he has ordered the provincial police chief to take action against anyone involved, including negligent police officers. He promised the government would restore the temple. Meanwhile, India’s external affairs ministry summoned a Pakistani diplomat to protest against the attack.
Pakistan’s draconian Blasphemy Law continues to be condemned internationally
The Blasphemy charges have left legal experts shocked who have called the action “unprecedented”. No one this young has ever been charged under such a law in the past.
Blasphemy laws continue to be unduly used against religious minorities in Pakistan. Suspects are often attacked and killed by mobs. The country had also introduced death penalty for the crime in 1986.
The law has also been heavily condemned internationally, with an international conference in the Brussels Press Club recently reiterating the same saying “the Blasphemy laws have been equated to ethnic cleansing”.
While purporting to protect Islam and the religious sensitivities of the Muslim majority of Pakistan, the blasphemy laws are “vaguely formulated and arbitrarily enforced by the police and the judiciary”. They permit and even invite, abuse and harassment of minorities in Pakistan. This goes hand in hand with targeting the Hindu minority, which has time and again faced persecution in the Islamic nation.
In December last year, a large violent Muslim mob had demolished a century-old Hindu temple in the north-western province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in just one of the many such incidents which happen in the country.
Besides non-Muslim minorities, Shia Muslims too, are accused of blasphemy for their beliefs. Since 2001, more than 2,600 Shia Muslims have been killed in violent attacks in Pakistan.
According to a report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedoms, published last year, Pakistan reported the highest number of incidents of mob activity, mob violence, and threats of mob violence as a result of alleged blasphemous acts.