A Chinese citizen working for a construction project in Pakistan is under police protection after workers accused him of blasphemy against Islam, according to officials.
Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even rumours of sacrilegious remarks can incite lynch mobs and deadly violence.
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Officials said on Monday that the engineer at the Dasu hydropower project in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province was accused of blasphemy after he highlighted the “slow pace of work” during the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to sunset.
“The labourers said they were fasting but denied that work had slowed down, which led to an exchange of heated words” with the supervisor, a police official told the AFP news agency on condition of anonymity.
“Later, the labourers accused the engineer of making blasphemous remarks” and about 400 locals gathered to protest, he said.
A written complaint filed with the police identified him only as a heavy transport supervisor by the name of “Mr Tian”, and said that his remarks on Saturday “sparked tensions”.
“The Chinese national has been taken to a safe place as a precautionary measure,” Muhammad Nazir, a police official in Dasu, told AFP.
There was no immediate comment from the Chinese embassy in Islamabad.
Police station attacked
A local administration official in Dasu, approximately 180km (110 miles) north of the capital Islamabad, said army and paramilitary troops were deployed “to ensure the safety of the engineers”.
Police official Naseer-ud-Din Khan said the crowd attacked the police station as officers were preparing the prosecution paperwork on Monday.
“The mob dispersed only after they were shown a copy of the case registered on blasphemy charges,” he said.
According to Khan, the accusations arose from a workplace disagreement: Tian allegedly became upset and reprimanded two local drivers for taking too much time from work to pray. Other labourers then claimed he had insulted Prophet Muhammad.
The Dasu dam construction contract was awarded to the China Gezhouba Group Company in 2017, and the project is shrouded by tight security.
It is among a number of Chinese firms that have taken on lucrative infrastructure contracts in Pakistan despite the security threats to Chinese nationals.
Blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan, though no executions have ever been carried out for the crime.
In December 2021, a Sri Lankan factory manager was beaten to death and set ablaze by a mob that accused him of blasphemy in the city of Sialkot in eastern Pakistan.