Pakistani boys arrested for burning Qur'anic texts in latest blasphemy controversy

Two Pakistani non-Muslim boys have been arrested for alleged blasphemy, in the latest case involving the country's strict and controversial blasphemy laws.

Vishal Masih, a Christian, and Bhola Ram, a Hindu, have been accused of desecrating Islam's sacred text, the Qur'an, by burning papers containing Qur'anic verses, according to the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), a Christian charity that advocates for persecuted Christians in Pakistan.

ReutersProtesters hold up placards while demanding the release of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who has been sentenced to death for blasphemy, at a rally in Lahore.

A case was registered against the boys on September 28 at a police station in Bunga Dhongha, Bahawalnagar under section 295 B of Pakistan's blasphemy laws.

Vishal and Bhola, who are both cleaners at the local hospital, were accused by a local policeman who said they had been seen on September 27 burning government documents in the street, documents that apparently included texts from the Qur'an.

CLAAS-UK director Nasir Saeed said the boys are illiterate and that the case was another example of state oppression through blasphemy legislation.

'The misuse of the blasphemy law continues to rise and because of the inadvertence of the government and politicians it has become a very sensitive matter in Pakistan especially for religious minorities,' he said.

'The police register a case against someone without investigation and verbal statements are considered enough evidence to register a case against anyone. This incident requires proper investigation into the case before registration, and the policeman is not an eyewitness.

He added: 'Since both boys are illiterate, and don't know how to read and write, how can they be charged with committing blasphemy?

'The police needs to investigate those who provided those documents to be burnt, those people must be named in the FIR (First Information Report). It is also important ask the complainant or eyewitnesses why they didn't stop the burning and what those Qur'anic verses were.'

Saeed said the government should also ban the use of Qur'anic verses on its government documents.

Pakistan's blasphemy laws have drawn international condemnation and are frequently used to settle scores against religious minorities. In September one Christian man was sentenced to death for allegedly insulting the prophet Muhammad, while in July a 16-year old boy was charged with blasphemy for speaking to a colleague about Jesus.

One high-profile victim, Asia Bibi, has been on death row for many years.