By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife) -- A teenage Pakistani Christian spent Saturday, September 23, behind bars on suspicion of ripping book pages containing Quranic verses, the latest in a series of detentions raising concerns about Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws.
17-year-old Shahid Masih is currently in custody in Faisalabad, Pakistan’s third largest city in the province of Punjab, lawyers and other sources said. He was arrested last week with a Muslim friend, Muhammad Ghaffar, for allegedly tearing pages from a tafseer, a book explaining the Quranic verses.
In statements, family members and friends denied the charges. They said the two boys, who sometimes used drugs, were falsely accused of blasphemy to punish them more severely for allegedly stealing some medicines from a local clinic.
Shahid’s mother, Alice Munawar, told reporters that a doctor warned the family about the theft of medicines from his clinic and of his intention to track down the perpetrators. On September 10, four policemen came to look for Shahid, telling the family that Dr. Masood had reported him for blasphemy.
"We admitted our son takes drugs but he has nothing to do with anything connected to religious matters. We have lived here for years and had good relations with Dr Masood; we used to take treatment from him," Catholic news agency AsiaNews quoted Munawar as saying.
Human rights groups and other officials agree that a straightforward case of minor theft was turned into a blasphemy case. Shahid is reportedly being defended by Catholic lawyer, Khalil Tahir, chairman of Adal Trust, a Non Governmental Organization in Faisalabad.
Tahir is the same lawyer who fought for Javed Anjum, a Catholic youth killed in 2004. In March this year, two Muslim clerics were sentenced to life imprisonment in connection with his murder, AsiaNews recalled.
Tahis, who offered to help the young Christian’s family free-of-charge, said the blasphemy charge would not hold because the only witness of Shahid’s presumed guilt was his companion and co-defendant Ghaffar. According to Pakistani law, the statement of an “accused person cannot be used against or for other people.”
The case has underscored tensions surrounding blasphemy cases in Palistan, a predominantly Muslim nation. Several Christians have been detained in recent years and at least 23 people, most of them Christians, were murdered on charges of blasphemy since the controversial laws were enforced in the 1980s. (With BosNewsLife Research and reports from Pakistan).
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