A senior pilot of Pakistan's state-run airlines has gone on leave after he being accused of blasphemy for allegedly insulting the Prophet Mohammed.
This is the first incident of its kind in the history of the Pakistan International Airlines.
Officials said today that the president of the PIA employees association, Hidayatullah Khan, complained to the airline's chairman that the senior pilot used derogatory words about a 'kalma' or Islamic declaration of faith and the Prophet in the presence of many colleagues. A three-member committee, set up to probe the matter, recorded the statements of the pilot's colleagues and submitted its recommendations to the chairman.
The committee's findings have not been made public but a PIA official told PTI that it had declared the pilot guilty of blasphemy and recommended he should be removed from service. The pilot went on leave to save himself from "extremist elements" in the airline, sources said. Some of his friends even suggested he should leave the country to save his life, they said.
Under Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law, a blasphemer faces life imprisonment or the death penalty. Rights groups have said the law is often misused to settle personal scores or persecute minority communities.
"You see blasphemy is the most sensitive issue in Pakistan and one may lose one's life if he or she faces blasphemy charges," said a PIA official, who did not want to be named.