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Central & South Asia

Pakistani lawyers charged with blasphemy

Police lodge case against 68 lawyers for using offensive slogans during protest against police official in Punjab state.

Last updated: 14 May 2014 10:37
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Last week gunmen killed a human rights lawyer defending a university lecturer accused of blasphemy [EPA]

Pakistani police have registered a blasphemy case against 68 lawyers who protested after a police officer detained one of their colleagues, officials said.

Lawyers, in the central town of Jhang, held demonstrations on Monday against local police chief Umar Daraz after one of their colleagues was allegedly manhandled by officers following a road accident last week.

"Lawyers were protesting against police, using foul language and the name of the inspector," the district's police officer, Zeeshan Asghar, told Reuters news agency on Tuesday.

The blasphemy charge comes as "Umar" is also the name of Hazrat Umar, one of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad.

A member of a banned political group complained his religious feelings were offended because the lawyers used the name "Umar" in their protest, and lodged the charges with police.

Blasphemy cases

Police said the man who lodged the case was a member of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat, a front for a banned Sunni sectarian group linked to the deaths of hundreds of minority Shia Muslims and led by politician Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi.

The president of the Jhang Bar Association said the body hoped Ludhianvi, who had expressed displeasure at the protest, would ask his supporter to withdraw the case.

"The issue has been settled now," said Meher Afzal Khan. "We have assured Mr. Ludhianvi that there was no mischief on our part. It was all a misunderstanding."

A study by an Islamabad-based think-tank, the Center for Research and Security Studies, showed that blasphemy accusations have spiked in Pakistan recently, with 80 complaints being registered in 2011, up from a single case in 2001.

Pakistan has not yet executed anyone for blasphemy, but members of religious minorities say they are often threatened with such accusations.

Last week a respected human rights lawyer was killed after facing threats in court for defending a university professor whose students had accused him of blasphemy.

It had taken the jailed professor a year to find a lawyer ready to defend him.

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