Muslim men held on blasphemy charge in Pakistan


Five people have appeared in a Pakistani court accused of blasphemy after a Sikh man complained they had desecrated his turban during a scuffle over a delayed bus. The men, all Muslims, appeared for the first hearing on Tuesday in Chichawatni in northern Punjab province, police said. Mahindar Pal Singh, 29, said he went to police after the incident on Sunday during a journey from Faisalabad to Multan.

He said the disturbance arose after he and other passengers complained when their bus broke down. Singh told Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper that the driver managed to start the bus but the vehicle took more than five hours to reach the next terminal. Due to the slow speed of the bus, Singh said, he and other passengers, complained to the company’s staff and demanded an alternative vehicle for the onward journey.

“The staff misbehaved, pushed me and threw my turban, which is very sacred, away,” he told AFP news agency. “They desecrated my religious symbol, so I decided to lodge a blasphemy case.” According to Pal, the police station officer “repeatedly requested [him] not to make the complaint and was acting like the lawyer more than the policeman”.

It carries the death penalty and is an extremely sensitive issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where people generally from the minority community have been targeted under the controversial law. Rights activists have criticised the country’s blasphemy laws, which they say are often used to carry out personal vendettas against minorities.