Pakistan: Blasphemy conundrum

By Salim Haq, New Delhi, May 23 : This is a heady cocktail. The cast- an unlikely villain- Iron brother Chinese, The locale- Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), The narrative- the blasphemy laws with their death penalty, The timing- just days prior to the visit of big bother Li Keqiang.

Every now and then Pakistan erupts with reports of someone having been lynched by a mob or hundreds of house burned to ashes for desecrating the Koran.

Retribution is swift as it is sure.

Not this time.

On May 17, 2013, a Chinese supervisor Lee Ping threw the Koran on the floor. The incident happened close to Muzaffarabad where the Chinese consortium for whom Lee Ping works is building the Neelum Jhelum Hydropower project.

The authorities acted with alacrity and took him into protective custody "to prevent him from being lynched by an angry mob", according to the authorities.

The police did not register a case immediately as they are supposed to. Instead a committee of officials, politicians, local clerics and journalists was set up to investigate the matter.

In all fairness, while details are sketchy, the incident happened due to a brawl between Lee and a local doctor Sajjad and was not a deliberate effort on the part of the Chinese to insult the Koran.
Sajid had been asked to shift his room in the workers' quarters which he refused to do. Not used to such acts of indiscipline, Lee took matters in his own hands and threw out Sajjad's luggage. According to Sajjad, a copy of the Koran and some other religious books were "thrown out" of his room.

This infuriated the local employees who were joined by residents of nearby villages. The compound was stoned, damaging some building and vehicles. The situation was brought under control by police reinforcements.

Blasphemy, in Pakistan, is a sensitive issue where even unsubstantiated allegations and rumours spark a violent reaction.

In recent times, the most memorable case under the blasphemy law was that of Asia Bibi, a Christian, who was sentenced to death in November 2010. Soon thereafter, the then Punjab Governor Salman Taseer who had met Asia Bibi in jail was shot dead by his bodyguard. A few months later the Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, another Christian, who was critical of the law was also shot dead.

Other cases have involved even mentally deranged teenagers who it was found, had been falsely implicated.

The case has obviously put the Pak authorities in a quandary. Evidence of this is that following the initial reports, the case together with Lee Ping has vanished from the face of POK. There have been no follow up reports.

With the high-profile visit of Chinese Premier slated for May21-22, the last thing Pakistan wanted was to have a Chinese being lynched in an area about which Li would have heard an earful in Delhi.

What can or will Pakistan do?

On the one side is all weather friend China and on the other the legions of radical Islamic parties. Dosti vs Dharam, the Hindi movie classic conundrum.

Interestingly, perhaps taking their cue from the all weather friend and no doubt from the establishment, no religious party or group has so far commented on the issue. The champions of Islam, the protectors of the faith are perhaps too busy in the post-election parley to notice such an incident. Or is it that Lee Ping is not a weak and meek member of the minorities on whom such parties can burnish their religious fervor?

Whatever the outcome, Mr Lee will go down in history as being the first foreigner to be involved in a blasphemy case in Paksitan. It would be interesting to speculate if the foreigner had not be a Chinese but been a European or even American, would the police have acted with such alacrity and taken him into protective custody instead of registering a case. Will Lee now do a Raymond Davis? Watch this space.

--ANI (Posted on 23-05-2013)

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