In a recent development, a Chinese national arrested in Pakistan on charges of blasphemy has been released from a high-security prison after a court granted him bail. This news comes amidst ongoing reports of the arrest and detention of Muslims and non-Muslims in Pakistan on charges of blasphemy, which have been widely criticized by rights groups.
Under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws, anyone convicted of the offense can be sentenced to death. Often, just a mere accusation is enough to provoke mobs to riot and even attempt to lynch those suspected of blasphemy. This was the case with the Chinese national, who was identified only by one name, Tian.
Tian was part of a group of Chinese working on the Dasu Dam, the biggest hydropower project in Pakistan. He was accused of blasphemy earlier this month after he criticized two drivers working on the project for taking too much time to pray during work hours. This led to hundreds of residents and laborers in the town of Komela blocking a key highway and demanding his arrest.
They alleged that Tian insulted Islam, a charge he denied. His lawyer, Atif Khan Jadoon, said Tian was granted bail by a judge in the northwestern city of Abbottabad on Thursday. He was released after depositing a bond of 200,000 rupees ($700), Jadoon said.
It was not immediately clear if Tian would have to remain in Pakistan to face trial or if he would be allowed to go back to China. The Chinese Embassy had earlier said it was looking into his case. During his detention, Tian was briefly hospitalized after feeling unwell, authorities have said but provided no other details. He pleaded not guilty during an earlier appearance in court and insisted he did not insult Islam or the Prophet Muhammad, according to his lawyer.
The arrest of Muslims and non-Muslims on charges of blasphemy are common in Pakistan, but foreigners are rarely detained. Police at one point said they arrested Tian to save him from an attack by angry crowds.
In 2021, a mob lynched a Sri Lankan man at a sports equipment factory in the eastern Punjab province. The crowd later burned his body in public over allegations that he had desecrated posters bearing the name of the Prophet Muhammad.
In related developments, Pakistani police said on Friday that a lawyer from the minority Ahmadi community was arrested for blasphemy in the southern port city of Karachi. Pakistan declared Ahmadis non-Muslims in 1974. They have since frequently been targeted by Muslim extremists, drawing international condemnation.
The detained lawyer, Ali Ahmad Tariq, was arrested on Thursday, allegedly because he had added a Muslim honorific to his name in official documents, prompting a Muslim resident to complain to the police. The development drew condemnation from human rights groups and Ahmadi community activists. A spokesman for the community, Amir Mehmood, denounced the arrest.
The situation in Pakistan highlights the ongoing challenges facing religious minorities in the country. The Ahmadi community has long been targeted for their beliefs, which are considered heretical by some Muslims. The blasphemy laws in Pakistan have also been criticized for being used to target individuals for personal or political reasons.
In recent years, there have been several high-profile cases of individuals being accused of blasphemy and then facing violent reprisals, including mob violence and even death. These cases have drawn widespread condemnation from human rights groups, who argue that the blasphemy laws are being used to persecute minorities and suppress freedom of expression.
Despite the criticism, the Pakistani government has shown little willingness to reform the blasphemy laws, which remain a sensitive issue in the country. Some argue that the laws are necessary to protect the religious sentiments of Muslims in Pakistan, while others argue that they are being used to suppress dissent and promote intolerance.
The case has also highlighted the growing presence of Chinese workers in Pakistan, who are involved in various infrastructure projects as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. While the project has been hailed as a major economic boost for Pakistan, it has also raised concerns about the impact of Chinese influence and investment on Pakistani society and politics.
Tian’s release has reignited the debate over Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and their impact on minority rights and freedom of speech. The case has also highlighted the growing presence of Chinese workers in Pakistan and the potential implications of China’s Belt and Road Initiative for the country’s politics and society. As Pakistan continues to grapple with these challenges, it remains to be seen how the issue of blasphemy and religious minorities will be addressed in the years to come.