accused of blasphemy, two Christian brothers benefit from dismissal of charges

accused of blasphemy, two Christian brothers benefit from dismissal of charges

Two brothers of Christian faith, prosecuted for accusations of blasphemy which had incited hundreds of Muslims to ransack their neighborhood in Pakistan in August, benefited from a dismissal of the charges, we learned on Friday March 1 from their lawyer .

More than 80 houses and 19 churches in a Christian neighborhood in the town of Jaranwala, in the country’s east-central Punjab province, were burned and destroyed when news broke that a Christian family had desecrated the Quran had spread.

Torn pages of the Koran on which words offensive to Islam had been scrawled had earlier been stuck on the walls of a mosque. Christians had fled their homes by the hundreds, some finding refuge in the homes of their Muslim neighbors. They criticized the police for not having protected the residents’ property.

Immediate release

Police arrested more than 125 people suspected of taking part in the violence, as well as two Christian brothers facing blasphemy charges. Up to 5,000 people of Muslim faith, armed with sticks and stones, stormed into the alleys of Jaranwala and ransacked everything, after the news of the desecration was announced over the loudspeaker.

The anti-terrorism court responsible for examining the case of the two brothers ordered Thursday the dropping of charges against them and their immediate release, said their lawyer, Tahir Bashir. “Without trial, no suspect can be kept in prison indefinitely”he said, refusing to disclose the identity of his clients, as a security measure.

Blasphemy, a sensitive subject

Pakistan’s blasphemy law, fiercely defended by Islamist parties, provides for the death penalty for anyone found guilty of insulting Islam or the Prophet Mohammed. However, no condemned person has yet been executed.

The issue of blasphemy is incendiary in this conservative, predominantly Muslim country, where even unproven allegations of offending Islam can lead to assassinations and lynchings. Christians, making up about 2 percent of the population, occupy one of the lowest rungs of Pakistani society and are often the target of unfounded blasphemy allegations.

Other members of religious minorities, as well as politicians, lawyers and students, have been killed on similar charges or for speaking out in defense of people suspected of blasphemy.

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