A Christian widow and a Muslim gardener were arrested in Pakistan this month on blasphemy charges after they were accused of intentionally burning papers containing koranic verses, attorneys said.
The accusations arose when 46-year-old Mussarat Bibi and the Muslim, Muhammad Sarmad, were cleaning the storeroom of the Government Girls Higher Secondary School in 66-EB village, Arifwala tehsil of Pakpattan District, Punjab Province on April 15, attorney Javed Sahotra said.
“Both workers were told to clean the storeroom that was filled with paper and other scrapped items,” Sahotra said. “It has been alleged that they gathered the wasted paper and other scrap in a corner of the school and set them on fire. Some students later noticed that the burnt items also contained holy pages.”
School staff members, including principal Nasreen Saeed, were aware that Bibi and Sarmad had not burned Koranic pages intentionally; under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, intent must be proven, Sahotra said. Some students and teachers protested, but the principal and senior staff members tried to quell the protests.
On Wednesday (April 19), a local Muslim named Kashif Nadeem called a police helpline and accused the Christian woman of committing blasphemy by burning koranic pages at the girls’ school. Nadeem named only the Christian woman, but police found the gardener was also involved in setting the pages on fire, according to the First Information Report (FIR).
“The complainant also gathered a mob outside the school and started protesting against the incident,” Sahotra told Morning Star News. “Even though the school principal and other teachers told the police that Mussarat and Sarmad had not burned the pages intentionally as both were illiterate, the police arrested them to avoid unrest by the protesters.”
Attorney Lazar Allah Rakha, who also represents the impoverished Christian woman, told Morning Star News that police charged both Bibi and Sarmad under Section 295-B of the blasphemy statutes and sent them 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.”
“Mussarat is innocent as she had no knowledge that the scrap material she and the gardener were destroying contained holy pages,” Rakha said.
The FIR filed on the complaint of a police officer states that the issue was brought to their attention on Wednesday (April 19), four days after the alleged incident, he said.
“It is unfortunate that despite knowing the fact that both workers were illiterate and had not committed the act intentionally, the police still arrested and charged them with blasphemy,” Rakha said. “We are very hopeful that the court will allow Mussarat’s release on bail and will also consider dropping the serious charge against her, because there was clearly no intent to commit any sort of blasphemy.”
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…continue reading
Pakistan’s blasphemy law has often been used to persecute Christians and other religious minorities in the country. The law makes it a criminal offense to insult or defile the Prophet Muhammad, the Quran, or any holy personages of Islam, with penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment and even death.
In many cases, false accusations of blasphemy have been used to target Christians, leading to arrests, imprisonment, and violence against them. Christian communities in Pakistan have long been advocating for the repeal of the blasphemy law and greater protections for religious minorities. Despite their efforts, the law remains in place and continues to be used as a tool of oppression and persecution.
Source: Morning Star News