A Christian woman and a Muslim man have been falsely accused of burning Quran pages. They now risk the death penalty.
by Massimo Introvigne
In Pakistan, a complex of laws collectively known as the “blasphemy law” punishes blasphemy against Islam with the death penalty. To claim that these laws are needed, Muslim fundamentalists need to argue that blasphemy is widespread. Many incidents are, however, fabricated.
One discussed on social media happened on April 19 at the Government Girls High School in Tehsil Arifwala, in Pakpattan Sharif, the capital city of the Pakpattan district, located in the Punjab province of Pakistan. A mob gathered, ready to lynch a Christian woman called Musarrat Bibi, and a Muslim man, Muhammad Sarmad. The duo was accused of having burned pages of the Holy Quran on April 15. The police intervened and dispersed the mob, but arrested the woman and the man, who were charged with blasphemy and now risk the death penalty.
Musarrat Bibi and Muhammad Sarmad are both illiterate, and work respectively as a cleaning lady and a gardener for the school. They were asked to clean a storage room and burn old and damaged papers. The school principal, Nasreen Saeed, told the police that there were no pages of the Quran in the storage room. However, some schoolgirls spread the rumor that pages of the holy book had been burned. The rumor spread and a mob gathered, claiming that the woman and the man should be killed on the spot.
Human rights activists believe that these were just fabricated charges, which spread through the fundamentalist rumor mills with the aim of supporting the idea that blasphemy laws should be maintained. Meanwhile, the lives of two illiterate workers, who just followed the instructions of their principal, are at risk.