Members of the Hindu and Baloch communities in the US have strongly condemned the arrest of a 35-year-old Hindu man in Pakistan over alleged blasphemy and sought intervention of the State Department. Prakash Kumar, a crockery shop owner, was arrested in the Hub area of southwestern Balochistan province on Wednesday for allegedly sending blasphemous content through WhatsApp after police’s timely intervention saved him from being lynched by a mob. “Pakistan’s archaic blasphemy laws have been used to charge and imprison over a thousand people since the laws were incorporated into the Constitution in 1986, while extremists have used the provisions as a pretext and justification to routinely attack religious minorities and other Pakistani citizens,” said Samir Kalra, HAF’s senior director and Human Rights fellow.
“HAF is extremely concerned about the fate of Prakash Kumar and is in direct touch with US State Department officials about his case,” Kalra said. Media relations director of the America Friends of Baloch Jane E Weisner said targeting members of minority community on a blasphemy charge had been unknown in Balochistan while it was a common practice in the army stronghold of Punjab. “But the arrest of Kumar and mob violence on Thursday in the town of Hub shows that the Pakistan army and intelligence services that call the shots in Balochistan are bent upon drowning the genuine freedom aspirations of the Baloch people through sectarian tactics,” he alleged.
She appealed to the Department of State to condemn Pakistan’s arrest of Kumar and strictly monitor human rights violations in Balochistan and elsewhere in Pakistan. In a separate incident, the Rama Pir Hindu temple in the town of Gharo in the southern Sindh province was attacked by unknown assailants last week, who desecrated the temple’s deities and dumped them in sewage lines, HAF said. HAF has documented the impact of the blasphemy laws and religious violence on Hindus and other religious minorities in Pakistan in its upcoming annual human rights report, set to be released later this month.
Following Kumar’s arrest, a 10-year-old boy was killed and five others, including three police officials, injured in the violence that had ensued when the mob tried to barge into the police station to attack him. The controversial blasphemy laws were introduced in Pakistan by former military ruler Zia-ul Haq in the 1980s and anyone charged under the laws becomes an easy target for extremists. The laws have been misused by miscreants and efforts to reform them have failed due to opposition by religious groups. Former governor Punjab Salman Taseer was killed by his police guard in 2011 for criticising the blasphemy laws.
Last month, a university student was killed by fellow students in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province for alleged blasphemy.