A petty dispatcher and a gardener working at a girls school in Arif Wala, Pakpattan have been booked under the draconian blasphemy laws of Pakistan.
Musarat Bibi and Muhammad Sarman cleared out a school cupboard and burnt scraps of paper, later identified as parts of a Koran.
Four days later they found themselves in a prison cell under arrest for blasphemy and face a life sentence.
Musarat Bibi worked as a naib qasid (petty dispatcher/peon) which is one of the lowest grades of workers at Government Girls Higher Secondary School 66 E/B. Her role was to transfer documents between staff and departments and keep clean and tidy all document cupboards, she would often sweep floors and make teas for staff too.
Mrs Bibi was hired by the school as a dispatcher despite the fact that she cannot read or write and is totally illiterate. Her employment was sanctioned under The Punjab Civil Servants’ (Appointment and Conditions of Service) Rules, 1974, section 17 (click here). This ruling allowed the school to provide immediate financial relief to the family of a deceased civil servant who dies or is declared invalid while in service. The school did not provide any monetary compensation to Ms Bibi when her husband Bharkat Masih died of cardiac arrest, 1.5 years ago. her husband was working as a primary school teacher and died during a classroom lesson. To compensate her they provided Mrs Bibi with one of their lowest paid jobs. A transaction that is acceptable to the Punjab Government who feel this is fair recompense.
17-A. Notwithstanding anything contained in any rule to the contrary, whenever a Civil Servant dies while in service any one of his unemployed children may he employed by the Appointing Authority against a post to he filled under rules 6 and 17 for which he possesses the prescribed qualifications and experience and such child may he given 10 additional marks in the aggregate by the Public Service Commission or by the appropriate Selection Board or Committee, provided he otherwise qualifies in the test, examination and/or interview],
On 15th April, Musarat Bibi was asked to clean a series of storeroom cupboards along with a Muslim gardener named Muhammad Sarmand. While cleaning the cupboards she found a large number of loose papers in the cupboards and on the floors. She and gardener were asked to collect all of these which the gardener was then to burn.
While burning the waste papers, Mr Sarmand found that they contained some pages of the Koran. He recognised this due to some familiarity with the Arabic language and the particular design of the papers, however, he is illiterate too. He took those partially burned papers and informed the school management about it. They accepted that both employees were not at fault, but some students and teachers began to protest when they found out.
On 19th April, a call was made to the Emergency Services telephone number 15, by a Mr Muhammad Kashif Nadeem. He informed the police that a Christian woman had desecrated a Koran at Government Girls Higher Secondary School 66 E/B. Police Officers arrived at the school and recovered the burned pages and arrested Mrs Bibi and also Mr Sarmad after uncovering he was responsible too. First Information Report (FIR) No. 385/23 under the charges 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code was filed against both accused persons.
|295-B.||Defiling, etc., of Holy Qur’an:|
Whoever wilfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Qur’an or of an extract therefrom or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment for life.
Musarat Bibi and Muhammad Sarmad were arrested and taken to Pakpattan Jail and are now under police custody. Christians are now in fear of Ms Bibi’s safety; as recently as February this year another man was grabbed from the custody of police, who gave a Muslim mob the keys to his cell under duress. The man was beaten to death and his corpse burned in the streets following a blasphemy allegation. Read more (here).
Mrs Bibi has three daughters, two of them are married and live with their husbands, the youngest child who is 14 years old, lived with her mother and has been taken to a place of safety.
Luka Masih, a local Pastor who leads the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, Arifwala City, said:
“Only a few Christian families reside in Dogranwala, which is a majority Muslim village.
“Fearing retribution and a mob attack all of the Christian families have fled their homes.
“They have travelled to friends and family who live some distance from their village fearing violence after a number of threats were being shouted in the streets.
“Though they fear that their homes will be burgled and ransacked following their departure, they only took a few items of their belongings with them.
“They did this to avoid detection while they escaped.”
British Asian Christian Association, are meeting with the family of Musarat Bibi soon. They hope to offer a legal advocate and assistance to her younger daughter who was a dependent. If you would like to help Musarat and many other blasphemy victims you can do so by contributing to our fund for Blasphemy law victims (here)
Juliet Chowdhry, Trustee for British Asian Christian Association, said:
“I am extremely concerned for Mrs Bibi.
“She has been accused of a blasphemy for an act that she will not have been aware of; now she faces the hatred of a nation and a life sentence.
“It seems rather bizarre to me that school staff who allowed looses pages of a Koran to sit on the floor of a storeroom and cupboard, have not been questioned on how this happened.
“Two innocent people face many difficult years in prison, have been criminalised and will face many death threats, through the negligence of their employers.”
Mrs Chowdhry, added:
“Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are in violation of numerous international laws for Human Rights.
“The nation’s leaders refuse to change these laws despite global condemnation.
“Even then they have successfully been elected to the UN Council for Human Rights five times, a fact they seem to be extremely proud of (click here).
“As a nation Pakistan is regularly featured on International Religious Freedom reports, but I guess this has no consequence when UN members consider validity for the Human Rights Council.
Read more about Pakistan’s commitment to the UN on their webpage (click here).