HRW ‘appalled’ over Pak Govt’s blasphemy charges against teenage student

Thursday, February 3, 2011

NEW YORK - The Pakistan government should immediately drop blasphemy charges against a 17-year-old student and ensure his safe release from detention, Human Rights Watch has said.

Pakistani authorities had arrested Muhammad Samiullah on January 28 and charged him under Pakistan’s blasphemy law after the chief controller of the intermediate level education board complained that the boy had written derogatory remarks against the Prophet Muhammad in his school exam answer in April 2010.

“Pakistan has set the standard for intolerance when it comes to misusing blasphemy laws, but sending a schoolboy to jail for something he scribbled on an exam paper is truly appalling,” said Bede Sheppard, senior children’s rights researcher at HRW.

“It’s bad enough that a school official flagged it, but for police and judicial authorities to go ahead and lock up a teenager under these circumstances is mind boggling,” he added.

The boy has been charged under Section 295-C of Pakistan’s penal code, which makes the death penalty mandatory for blasphemy. HRW said Pakistan has applied the blasphemy law to children before as well.

Hundreds of people have been charged under the law since it was added to the penal code in 1986 by the then military ruler General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq.

The law has come under renewed scrutiny in recent months after Aasia Bibi, an illiterate Pakistani Christian woman accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad was sentenced to death on November 8, 2010.

“While Pakistan’s government keeps up the mantra that it will not allow ‘misuse’ of the law, government inaction has only emboldened extremists,” rued Sheppard.

“Until this law is repealed, it will be used to brutalize religious minorities, children, and other vulnerable groups,” he added. (ANI)

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