Blasphemy allegations hit Norwegians
February 8, 2011
Two Pakistani-Norwegians are wanted by police in Karachi investigating an alleged act of blasphemy – and will issue an arrest warrant unless they return voluntarily to the country for questioning.
Oslo newspaper Aftenposten reports the Norwegians are wanted in connection with their cousin, 17-year-old Muhammed Samiullah, who is accused of making “extremely derogatory” remarks about the Prophet Mohammed during an exam at school. The act of blasphemy is illegal in Pakistan and could potentially lead to the death penalty – but Samiullah has blamed his Norwegian cousins for the act.
Samiullah has reportedly claimed that his 20-year-old Norwegian cousins – one male and one female – influenced him during a visit to Karachi in 2009. The Pakistani press have suggested that he was “brainwashed” by his relatives from Norway.
It is not known exactly what Samiullah wrote during the exams. In statements given to the police that Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten has seen, the 17-year-old claims that his cousins teased him about Islam and discussed “blasphemous questions,” which led him to “write their words” on his answer papers. He said that his relatives had “convinced me that they lived happily in Oslo while I went to the mosque,” and apparently claimed that “their land is free and nothing can hinder the expression of their opinion.”
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws were introduced by former dictator Zia ul Haq in the 1980s, and have allegedly been used largely against religious minorities and opponents of the government. Even those who have been acquitted of such charges have sometimes gone on to be killed by vigilantes. The law attracted particular attention last year when a woman, who remains in jail today, was sentenced to death under the law for the first time – and a state governor who supported her was murdered for voicing his opinion.
Human Rights Watch has commented on the case, stating that “to send a schoolboy to prison for something he has written in an exam is genuinely repulsive.” But this is not the first time that a child has been accused using the law – a Christian called Salamat Masih, then 14, was tried and acquitted in 1995. The judge who granted the acquittal was eventually murdered, and Masih himself had to flee the country.