A Christian widow and a Muslim gardener in Pakistan’s Punjab Province were charged with blasphemy after being accused of intentionally burning papers containing verses from the Quran, Morning Star News reports.
The 46-year-old widow, Mussarat Bibi, and a gardener named Muhammad Sarmad, are both illiterate, attorneys say. The two employees of the Government Girls Higher Secondary School were told to clean a storeroom that was filled with waste paper and other discarded items.
“It has been alleged that they gathered the wasted paper and other scrap in a corner of the school and set them on fire,” said attorney Javed Sahotra. “Some students later noticed that the burnt items also contained holy pages.”
Sahotra added that under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, intent must be proven. But school staff members, including principal Nasreen Saeed, were aware that Bibi and Sarmad had not burned pages from the Quran intentionally. And attorney Lazar Allah Rakha, who is representing Bibi, told Morning Star News: “Mussarat is innocent as she had no knowledge that the scrap material she and the gardener were destroying contained holy pages.”
The law under which the two workers have been charged carries a penalty of life in prison for anyone who “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.”
“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,” Rakha added.
Nasir Sayeed, director of the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), said: “The case against Bibi and Sarmad should be dismissed and those people who asked them to clean the store and didn’t supervise them should be investigated and should be punished for their carelessness. … This is completely unfair and unjust. Such people who don’t know how to read and write are given such a job and then they are charged with blasphemy. It is misuse of the blasphemy law and it has to be stopped.”
CLAAS is a Christian charity dedicated to helping persecuted Christians in Pakistan.
Above: Stock photo of Pakistan’s flag.
Photo: Hazrat Bilal/Alamy Stock Photo