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ICC Note:

Last week, a Muslim man in Kasur, Pakistan was arrested under blasphemy charges after he was discovered setting fire to copies of the Bible and other hymn books. Now, there is controversy between Kasur’s Christian community and the local police regarding whether the accused suffers from a mental illness. According to the Christians, the accused is sound of mind and must be punished according to the law. According to police, the accused is mentally ill and thus cannot be held responsible. Regardless, Pakistan’s blasphemy laws continue to be a source of much of the Christian community’s persecution. They are often abused to settle scores, for personal gain, or to incite religious hatred. Isn’t it time for Pakistanis of all faiths to come together at start promoting an atmosphere of religious tolerance where incidents like this can be dealt with in a peaceful and just manner? 

1/11/2016 Pakistan (Asia News) – A young Muslim man of 26 years was arrested for setting fire to copies of the Bible and to books containing sacred hymns.

The incident occurred on Wednesday afternoon, at the Victory Church in Kasur, a city of nearly 250,000 people about 60 km from Lahore, in Pakistan’s Punjab province.

In November 2014, the area was the scene of a brutal attack on a young Christian couple, parents of four children, who were stoned to death and then burnt alive by an angry mob, incited by an imam after allegations of blasphemy were made against the victims.

According to police, the arsonist, Akba Azhar, suffers from mental problems and therefore cannot be held liable for his actions. Local Christians conversely believe that he is of sound mind and has the capacity to think, reason, and understand for himself.

Two days ago, the day of Epiphany, a group of Christians went to church to pray and saw a young man next to the remains of burnt Bibles and other holy books.

Realizing that he had been discovered, Azhar Akba, originally from Sialkot, tried to flee but was surrounded by several men and brought back into the building.

The Christian worshippers called police, who arrived at the scene and took the young man into custody. Some children recognized him because, the night before the arson, he had played with them in the courtyard adjacent to the church.

Christians filed their complaint in accordance with the blasphemy rule against burning of sacred texts.

Police began their investigation, but said little about the evidence, if any, they collected or possible charges until they decided to drop the case saying that the young man appears to suffer from mental problems, and thus cannot be.

Many local Christians disagree, noting that the young man was of sound mind and fully capable to thinking, reasoning, and understanding for himself when he decided to burn the sacred texts.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Rojar Noor Alam, a Pakistani human rights activist, condemned the Bible burning, saying that the culprit should be pursued as required by law.

Religious leaders, he added, “must play a leading role in maintaining harmony and avoiding sectarian events of this kind.”

For Aila Gill, coordinator of the National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Church of Pakistan (NCJP), the incident is the result of the prevailing climate of intolerance.

[Full Story]