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Dublin: 2°C Thursday 20 January 2022
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Pakistan urged to drop blasphemy charges against 17 year old

The schoolboy faces death after allegedly scribbling blasphemous comments on an exam paper.

Image: amandabhslater via Creative Commons

PAKISTAN HAS BEEN urged to drop blasphemy charges against a 17-year-old boy and release him from police custody immediately, by a leading human rights organisation.

The schoolboy, Muhammad Samiullah, was arrested on 28 January after allegedly writing derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad in his answers on a written school exam in April 2010.

The death penalty is mandatory for blasphemy in Pakistan, under section 295-C of the country’s penal code.

“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 Human Rights Watch.

“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.

Pakistan police have refused to reveal what exactly Samiullah had written – as repeating the offending remarks would amount to blasphemy.

Human Rights Watch has pointed out that Pakistan is a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which guarantees everyone under the age of 18 the right to freedom of expression, thought, conscience, and religion.

Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law has come under international scrutiny recently as a result of the Asia Bibi case. Bibi was sentenced to death after professing her Christian faith to co-workers.

The international media focus on Bibi’s case, and the ensuing pressure to drop charges against her, served to provoke extremists in the country -who began a campaign of intimidation against those condemning the law. Earlier this month, one of Pakistan’s most outspoken and liberal politicians, Salman Taseer, was assassinated for defending Bibi, criticising the law and pushing for its abolition.

Human rights advocates have particularly condemned the use of the law against minorities and minors; Sheppard said: “Until this law is repealed, it will be used to brutalise religious minorities, children, and other vulnerable groups.”

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