The incident could reinforce existing concerns about the safety of Chinese workers in Pakistan, and a withdrawal by China could be disastrous for Pakistan’s economy.
On April 17, a Chinese national was arrested on charges of blasphemy in Kohistan district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. The accused – identified only by his surname, Tian – is an engineer in charge of heavy machinery for China Gaezhouba Group Co. at the Dasu hydropower project. He was accused of blasphemy by local drivers working under his supervision.
According to local reporting, a brawl broke out on 15 April when Tian reprimanded his subordinates for taking longer than the prescribed time to offer afternoon prayers. During the ensuing argument, Tian allegedly made derogatory remarks against Allah and the Prophet Muhammad, as alleged in the formal police complaint filed against the Chinese national.
The allegation was followed by protests by angry locals, who blocked the main highway linking Pakistan with China. The protest ended after the police arrested Tian and filed an FIR against the accused under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which carries the death penalty.
While the details of this case are yet to emerge, we have repeatedly seen the malicious intent behind other such cases. Blasphemy is a very sensitive issue in Pakistan. A mere allegation of blasphemy can land the accused in hot water. Given the fact that large numbers of people can be quickly mobilized on the issue of blasphemy, such accusations have been repeatedly used by individuals to settle personal vendettas. There are many examples of such false accusations; However, the most gruesome and relevant case is the mob lynching of Priyanta Kumara.
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Kumara, a 49-year-old Sri Lankan national, was working as a general manager at a local garment factory in Sialkot. He was lynched by an angry mob on December 3, 2021 over allegations of blasphemy. This allegation turned out to be false, as investigations later revealed that the workers involved in the gruesome incident disliked Kumara for being strict in enforcing discipline.
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The same dynamic appears in the case of Tian, who according to initial reports was also strict in enforcing discipline by reprimanding those who accused him of taking too long to pray during working hours.
It is pertinent to mention here that Tian is not the first Chinese national to be accused of blasphemy in Pakistan. In May 2013, a Chinese national, Li Ping, who was working as an administration manager for a Chinese consortium building a major hydroelectric project in Azad Kashmir, Accused of throwing Quran on the ground, making an allegation of blasphemy against the manager. However, a subsequent police investigation cleared the Chinese activist of blasphemy charges and took action against 35 people who were involved in falsely accusing Li Ping.
Moving on from these high-profile cases, the misuse of the issue of blasphemy to settle personal disputes has also been highlighted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in its 2015 judgment in the famous Malik Muhammad Mumtaz Qadri v. State case. To quote the exact words from the judgment, “Most cases of blasphemy are based on false accusations stemming from property issues or other personal or family vendettas rather than actual instances of blasphemy, and they inevitably lead to violence against entire communities.” take away.”
The recent imprisonment of a Chinese national under Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which carries the death penalty, could have far-reaching consequences for the economic life of Pakistan, which is, figuratively speaking, already on a ventilator. The incident could further worsen relations between the two countries, which have been at loggerheads over rising attacks on Chinese nationals in Pakistan by nationalist and religious extremist organizations operating in the country. It may also address pre-existing concerns among foreign investors and businesses operating in Pakistan, especially those with links to China and investing in Pakistan.
The bottom line is that at a time when Pakistan’s relations with the Western world are in flux, it cannot afford to alienate China, the country’s only major source of foreign direct investment at the moment. Thus, it is of utmost importance for the Government of Pakistan to initiate an open dialogue with key stakeholders to address the issue of reforming the country’s blasphemy laws. Despite having no basis in Hanafi Islam, these laws have created a significant level of sensitivity to blasphemy in Pakistan. In addition, these laws have been used on several occasions to settle the personal disputes mentioned above. In light of these concerns, it is necessary for the government to take proactive steps to address the issue of reform keeping in mind the best interest of the country.