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US urged to save Hindu principal charged with blasphemy in Pak
TIWN
US urged to save Hindu principal charged with blasphemy in Pak
PHOTO : TIWN

Washington, Oct 23 (TIWN) As Pakistan's blasphemy laws guarantee the death penalty or life imprisonment, it has become common for radical Islamic groups in that country to slap blasphemy charges on locals who are unwilling to convert, a Sindhi-American human rights activist has told a US Congressional panel, and cited a case of the anti-Hindu violence that broke out in Sindh's Ghotki last month over a false blasphemy charge on a Hindu school principal.

Fatima Gul, testifying before the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee Asia, the Pacific and Non-Proliferation, during the hearing on "Human Rights in South Asia: Views from the State Department and the Region" said, "The vast majority of Pakistani citizens experience oppression, violence, and religious and political persecution by government authorities and their supporters daily.. With the US directly supporting the Pakistani government economically, Pakistani authorities have been able to persistently increase their stranglehold on citizens across the country."

She urged the US Congress and the Trump administration to put pressure on Pakistan to immediately release and save the life of Ghotki school principal Notan Lal.

Recounting the Ghotki incident, she said on September 15, 2019, religious extremist groups and gangs of local thugs attacked temples, houses and businesses of the Sindhi Hindu Community in Ghotki.

"The attackers left chaos and terror across the neighbourhoods of Sindhi Hindus, with many fleeing. These attacks on the Sindhi Hindu community were carried out on the pretext that a professor, Notan Lal, had committed blasphemy. Lal and his wife had run a private school in Ghotki for almost two decades.

"One day, when Lal reprimanded a student for bad behavior, the angry student went to the police station and told officers that the Professor had insulted Mohammad, the Prophet of Islam. Despite the lack of evidence, Lal was taken into police custody. He has not been heard since then."

She said that since 1990, at least 75 people have been killed for blasphemy in Pakistan, while 40 people are serving life sentences or are on death row for blasphemy. Many times, people facing blasphemy charges are killed extrajudicially by fellow prisoners or even mobs and bystanders.

A Human Rights Watch report states: "The government has not amended the law and has instead encouraged discriminatory prosecutions and other abuses against vulnerable groups," she said.

"Even outside of Sindh, the persecution of religious minorities remains a salient feature of Pakistan. Hindus, Christians, Ahmadis, Hazaras, Shias and Zikri Baloch Muslims are common and helpless victims at the hands of religious extremist groups. These groups operate with government impunity," she said.

Gul said that in 1974, Pakistan''s Parliament declared that Ahmadiyyas are aKafirs'' (heretics). Since then, Ahmadiyyas have effectively been forced out of the political process because they are required to declare themselves non-Muslim in order to be granted a ballot.

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