(ADDS NEWS THAT HE HAS BEEN TRANSFERRED TO PRISON)
By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– A Christian man has been detained in Pakistan’s heartland Punjab province on allegations of blasphemy against Islam, shortly after a Christian couple was burned to death by a mob for allegedly insulting Muslims, BosNewsLife learned.
Qaiser Ayub, 40, was captured last week and held at a police station in the town of Talagang in Punjab’s Chakwal District, rights activists confirmed. He was transferred to the main Chakwal District jail, said Sardar Mushtaq Gill, national director of advocacy group Legal Evangelical Association Development (LEAD).
Ayub tried to hide for police for some 3.5 years, after being charged with writing “blasphemous” remarks on his website, according to LEAD and other Christians.
Despite possible arrest Ayub, who graduated in computer sciences, had been teaching recently at a school in Lahore, apparently triggering a police warrant, Gill said, adding that his group his providing legal assistance. “We also request prayer for him.”
Scores of people, many of them Christians, have been detained in Pakistan under the country’s strict blasphemy laws, which carry sentences of life in prison or the death penalty. Asia Bibi, a Christian mother-of-five, is among those facing execution after she told co-workers that “Jesus is allive”, according to trial observers. Rights groups say blasphemy laws often are exploited for personal gain or to target the Christian minority.
Several Christians are known to have been killed while awaiting a verdict or for criticizing the legislation, including Pakistan’s Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, in 2011.
Ayub’s detention in Punjab province came shortly after angry Muslims burned to death Christians Shahbaz Maseeh, 26, and his pregnant wife Shama Bibi, 24, for accidentally setting fire to several verses of the Koran.
The November 4 incident in Kot Radha Kishan town, some 64 kilometers (40 miles) southwest of Lahore, happened after their kiln factory manager claimed to have seen half torched Koranic pages between a heap of garbage, BosNewsLife learned.
“Police deliberately failed to save the couple because they were Christian. They claimed they were outnumbered by the mob,” Gill told BosNewsLife.
Police officials have said however they are investigating the attack and have detained several suspects.
Last week LEAD organized a protest march in Punjab demanding all suspects be brought to justice. Protesters including Catholic and Protestant church leaders, were seen chanting slogans and holding banners with slogans against blasphemy policies and “ongoing religious persecution” in the country.
“The couple was burned at the kiln furnace based on a “false accusation of blasphemy,” complained Gill.
“The government must take immediate bold steps to repeal the blasphemy laws,” which he suggested created an atmosphere of hatred. “The government has absolutely failed to protect its citizens’ right to life and property,” the lawyer added.
“Christians in Pakistan are not safe as long as the current blasphemy laws exists. They are just misused to persecute them,” Gill said. “These laws are grave violation of human rights” and the “West should play a constructive and effective role” to pressure the government over the issue and hear the voice of Pakistani Christians.”
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