A court in Pakistan on Saturday (May 13) released on bail a Christian woman charged under a blasphemy statute that calls for life in prison, her attorney said.
Lazar Allah Rakha told Morning Star News that Arifwala Additional Sessions Judge Ijaz Ahmad Phulwaran on Friday (May 12) admitted the post-arrest bails of Musarrat Bibi and a Muslim accused along with her, Muhammad Sarmad, on bonds of 100,000 rupees (US$338) each.
“The court accepted my arguments that there was a four-day delay in the registration of the First Information Report [FIR] against Musarrat Bibi and Muhammad Sarmad,” Rakha told Morning Star News. “Moreover, both accused had no intention of burning the koranic pages.”
Bibi and Sarmad are illiterate and were only carrying out orders of the school administration to clean the storeroom of the school where she worked as an office worker and Sarmad as a gardener, the attorney said. Intent must be proven for a blasphemy conviction in Pakistan.
Bibi, 45, and Sarmad on April 15 were told to clean the storeroom at the Government Girls Higher Secondary School in 66-EB village, Arifwala tehsil of Pakpattan District, which was filled with paper and other scrap items.
The two workers allegedly gathered the wastepaper and other scrap in a corner of the school and set them on fire. Some students later noticed that the burned items also contained pages with koranic verses.
School staff members, including principal Nasreen Saeed, were aware that Bibi and Sarmad had not burned koranic pages intentionally, said attorney Javed Sahotra, who is also representing Bibi. The principal and others also tried to pacify protests by some teachers and students.
Four days later, on April 19, local Muslim Kashif Nadeem called a police helpline and accused the Christian woman of committing blasphemy by burning koranic pages at the school. Nadeem named only Bibi, but police found the gardener was also involved in setting the pages on fire during investigation, Sahotra said.
Nadeem gathered a mob outside the school that staged a protest, and police arrested Bibi and Sarmad to avoid unrest, he said. They were charged under Section 295-B of the blasphemy statutes and sent to Pakpattan Jail on judicial remand.
Section 295-B states, “Whoever willfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Koran or of an extract therefrom or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment for life.”
Bibi has three daughters, two married, while the youngest is 14 and lives with her mother. Bibi’s husband, Barkat Masih, had worked as a teacher in the same school, and after his death five years ago, the institution hired her as an office worker in accordance with government service rules. She also ran a small store in the school to supplement her income.
News Source: Morning Star News