UnNews:Pakistan urged to free boy arrested for blasphemy

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4 February 2011

Pakistani-boy

Face of blasphemy in Pakistan.

LAHORE, Pakistan -- Human Rights Watch has called on the Pakistani government to release a boy who has been charged under the country's controversial blasphemy law. Muhammad Samiullah, 7, is currently being kept chained to a wall in the southern city of Karachi’s main prison. He is accused of blaspheming against the Prophet Muhammad in an examination paper.

The alleged incident, reported by an informant, took place during Second Grade examinations in Karachi's North Nazimabad neighborhood. Police officials said they arrested Muhammad Samiullah after the chief examiner of the primary school board lodged a complaint on 28 January. According to the complaint, the boy had wrongly answered the question, what type of footwear did the Prophet use? The boy answered, ‘combat boots’, but the correct answer is ‘sandals’.

The blasphemy law has been in the spotlight since a Christian girl, Asia Bibi, was sentenced to death in November – presumably for saying the unsayable. But she denies insulting the Prophet Muhammad in her Punjab village in June 2009. According to her defense attorney, the prophet died in June of 632, which was centuries before she was even born, therefore the charges are unfounded.

Critics of Pakistan’s blasphemy law say it has been used to persecute minority faiths in Pakistan, and is also exploited for grudges or acts of revenge.

In January, a bodyguard of Punjab governor Salman Taseer assassinated him for even considering the mere idea of supporting calls to amend the law, leading to what correspondents say is a climate of terror with few people daring to even mention the Prophet for fear of being stoned or having their tongues cut out.

"Pakistan has set the lowest standard for intolerance when it comes to blasphemy laws, but sending a boy to jail for something he scribbled on an exam paper is truly appalling," said Bede Sheppard, senior children's rights researcher, at Human Rights Watch.

“It's bad enough that a school official flagged it, but for police and judicial authorities to go ahead and arrest a seven year old boy under these circumstances is mind-boggling.” He was later produced in court where the magistrate sent him to a court torture chamber while police conclude their own investigation citing his ‘sincere apology’ as proof of his guilt.

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