A Pakistani court has jailed a 42-year-old Muslim man for life for burning a Quran,officials said.
Naseem Ahmed,a father of three,was arrested last June on charges of desecrating Islam’s holy book in Lasda village in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir,about 40 kilometres east of Muzaffarabad.
The farmer was found guilty under the Muslim country’s tough blasphemy laws that make defaming Islam punishable by death and which have been heavily criticised in the West,particularly over the persecution of a tiny non-Muslim minority.
“We heard up to 15 witnesses. His mother also testified against the accused and we have given him life imprisonment,” Judge Ameerullah Khan said.
Ahmed said he would appeal the sentence,professing his innocence and saying he had no idea that a Quran was among a pile of books he set alight.
“My younger brother and sister didn’t care about their school books and used to leave them scattered around the house,” Ahmed said,speaking by telephone from custody.
“One day I came home and got angry at seeing the books scattered. I collected them up and burnt them. My mother admonished me,telling me that among the books I burnt,was a copy of Holy Quran,” he said.
“The neighbour overheard and called the police. Members of a rival (Sunni Muslim) sect with whom I had been clashing in the past suddenly became active in this case that is why I have been convicted,” he said.
Pakistan introduced its anti-blasphemy law in 1986 and it was adopted by Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir in 1993.
In late 2010,a Pakistani court sentenced a Christian mother to death for blasphemy. Her case was taken up by liberal politician Salman Taseer,who was shot dead in January 2011 over his calls to reform the blasphemy law.
Last month,reports that Americans set fire to Qurans on an American base in neighbouring Afghanistan sparked riots that killed at least 40 people.