Pakistanis 'disturbed' by blasphemy case

A Pakistani imam has been remanded in custody, accused of planting pages of the Koran among burnt pages in the bag of a Christian girl held for blasphemy.

The girl, Rimsha, was detained two weeks ago near the capital Islamabad after an angry mob demanded she be punished.

Here, Pakistani people give their reaction to the case and debate the future of the country's controversial blasphemy laws.

Rana Waqas Anwar, Federal government worker, Lahore

After the imam's arrest, the reaction of the public has signalled a change of attitude in society. For the first time people are discussing the cause and effects of the law.

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Sohail

Society is more open to discussion”

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This development has clearly demonstrated how clerics mould religious teachings, laws and public sentiment in their favour.

The law is spreading anarchy and injustice. It is clearly being used against religious minorities and there should be a review into this on a governmental level.

Previously, Salman Taseer (the Punjab Governor) and Shahbaz Bhatti (the Minorities Minister) have talked about amending the law. This provoked a reaction which led to their deaths.

Now I feel the society is more open to discussion. No protests have been arranged in support of Imam Khalid - but there has been public support for Rimsha.

So the time is ripe for the government to take a clear stance and introduce a bill for amendment without losing politically.

Hopefully, Imam Khalid's conviction will put an end to the vigilante justice.

Sundas Hoorain, law student, Lahore, currently in the UK

Sundas Hoorain Sundas Hoorain would like to see the blasphemy law abolished

I have been involved in anti-blasphemy activism in Lahore. I helped organise a "Rally against Fear" after the murder of Governor Taseer, which then led to the formation of Citizens for Democracy - a citizen's group with the aim of abolishing the blasphemy law.

I am from a Muslim background, but I am not religious. I stand against any oppressive religious laws.

The latest case brought a change of attitude in the Pakistani civil society. Everyone, including religious parties, has come out denouncing this incident as a horrible thing.

I have been constantly sending tweets urging well-known figures to make a stand. I've been endlessly tweeting Imran Khan, for example, and he has finally come out to denounce it.

The delegitimising of the local cleric is a very positive step, because it has turned the charge of blasphemy on its head. When no-one is sure whether it is the accused or the accuser who is guilty of blasphemy, it's easier to avoid a mob situation.

I would like to see the law abolished, but I know I am getting ahead of myself here. We are far from it as long as people in Pakistan believe that it is not the law that's at fault, but the people who abuse it.

Xavier P William, Christian activist, Rawalpindi

Xavier P. William

I am a Christian. I am also an activist and I often get involved in cases of blasphemy. I've been involved in this case from the very beginning.

I am extremely concerned about Rimsha's safety. Whenever she gets released, she and her family won't be able to go back to their village.

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It's time to stop the atrocities on the basis of religion”

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They will either have to live in hiding in Pakistan, or if they have the opportunity - leave the country.

There are also 600 Christian families who fled from the area when Rimsha was accused. They are frightened to go back, especially after learning that the burnt pages were planted by the cleric himself.

They were promised that they would be provided with shelter and food, but that never happened, so their future is uncertain.

The cleric's arrest has stirred a reaction in the civil society. This has given a fresh start to the debate about the reforms in the blasphemy laws, as this case is another example where the laws have been abused for personal gain.

This is a national issue and everyone who claims to be secular and liberal should raise their voice. It's time to stop atrocities on the basis of religion.

If we don't raise our voice now, the next generations will question our silence.

Sohail, student, Karachi

Sohail Sohail: "Maniacs should not be allowed to highjack the law"

A young girl with learning difficulties arrested under the blasphemy law was already a shocker! Planting the pages in order to get her accused is disgusting.

That is not what Islam teaches us. A child cannot be put in jail, that's the law. The case should be investigated and the girl protected from the maniacs who think they are keepers of Islam.

The imam should be charged and if found guilty, he should get the maximum punishment for inciting religious violence.

This would set an example and will make people think very carefully in the future if they are tempted to use the law to settle personal vendettas.

However, the blasphemy law should never be abolished. No-one has the right to hurt the feelings of any group - ethnic or religious.

Religious minorities should practise their faith in peace and maniacs should not be allowed to hijack the law.

Adnan, computer programmer, Lahore

I felt deeply disappointed when I heard about this incident. I cannot say I was shocked as such incidents are unfortunately not new in this country.

However, this was particularly disturbing as the girl was a minor and with learning difficulties.

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It's very disturbing for me that even speaking about this law in public has become a taboo”

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Contrary to the popular belief in the West that the law needs to be scrapped, I think the law should stay.

The law provides a chance for the law-enforcement authorities to interfere in the matter. Otherwise, the angry mob would take it upon their honour to avenge for the alleged blasphemy.

It's not the law to blame, it's the people! The Muslim clergy have never advocated religious tolerance, though the clerics wouldn't take the blame.

The governor of the state of Punjab was shot dead by his own bodyguard for just speaking against the blasphemy law, and a wide class of the society, even well-educated people, declared the bodyguard a 'hero'! Such is the dismal state of affairs in this country.

It's very disturbing for me that even speaking about this law in public has become a taboo. The Pakistani electronic media, particularly TV, has avoided this story and renowned news anchors have avoided talking on this matter.

Interviews by Krassimira Twigg

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