KARACHI: In a rare case in Muslim-majority Pakistan, a journalist in the southern Sindh province has been arrested under the country’s blasphemy law for offending Hindus by uploading a doctored image of a deity on social media, a senior officer said on Wednesday.
Pakistan's blasphemy laws make it a crime to insult any religion and most blasphemy cases in the country are filed against people for defiling the holy Quran or insulting the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), offences that carry a life sentence and mandatory death sentence, respectively.
In a rare case, however, local journalist Aslam Baloch, a Muslim, was arrested on Tuesday after Hindu community members complained that he had disrespected their religion by editing a photo of the Hindu deity Hanuman and replacing its face with that of former prime minister Imran Khan.
“Aslam Baloch had shared an edited photo of the Hindu god Hanuman with a very objectionable caption,” senior superintendent of police in Mirpur Khas, Captain (retired) Asad Ali Chaudhry, told Arab News.
“We took legal action upon a complaint and arrested the journalist.”
The complaint was filed by Ramesh Kumar, the head of a local Hindu council, after which Baloch was booked under two sections of the Pakistan Penal Code, section 153-A, for promoting enmity between different groups, and section 295-A, which is related to the blasphemy law and applies to anyone accused of having deliberate and malicious intention of outraging religious feeling through written or spoken words, or visual representations.
In his complaint, Kumar said he was sitting with friends at a doctor’s clinic in Mirpur Khas and scrolling through his social media timelines when he came across Baloch’s post.
“The morphed photo was shared with a highly objectionable caption, which was a clear attempt to hurt the sentiment of the followers of the Hindu faith,” Kumar told Arab News. “The post also intended to damage religious harmony, create religious hatred, and incite violence.”
If found guilty, Baloch can be punished with ten years imprisonment, a fine, or both.
Following Baloch’s arrest, Kumar said that he was “satisfied" with the police action.
“They heard us, registered our complaint, and arrested the culprit. It has given us a sense of security and made us feel that we are equal citizens of Pakistan,” Kumar added.
Baloch, who is in police custody, could not be reached for a comment.
In other rare cases in Pakistan where action was taken against Muslims for offending the religious sentiments of minorities, in April 2021, police filed a case under 295-A against three unknown persons for disrespecting a Priest-King replica at the Mohenjo-Daro ancient site in Sindh. The Priest-King is a small male figure sculpted in steatite found during the excavation of the ruined Bronze Age city of Mohenjo-Daro in Sindh, Pakistan.
In September 2019, Muslims were booked for attacking and damaging a Hindu temple in the Ghotki area of Sindh. Another case was registered under the blasphemy laws against Muslim suspects for vandalizing a Hindu temple in Karachi on September 21, 2012.
Around four million Hindus live in Pakistan, or about 1.9% of the country’s population, out of which 1.4 million reside in Sindh.