Chinese engineer accused of blasphemy freed on bail

    A Chinese national arrested on charges of committing blasphemy was released from prison and shifted to an undisclosed location on Thursday after he was granted bail by an anti-terrorism court in Abbottabad.

    The judge granted the accused’s bail plea after he furnished a bond of Rs200,000 as surety.

    Chinese national Tian was arrested in Upper Kohistan district on April 16, after a mob blocked the Karakoram Highway accusing him of committing blasphemy while arguing with labourers over long prayer breaks at the project site.

    The First Information Report (FIR) of the incident was registered at Kamila police station, Upper Kohistan, under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code and Section 6/7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act.

    Two lawyers represented the petitioner in the court. The Chinese national was not brought to the court for security reasons.

    The lawyers contended that Tian was innocent, terming the blasphemy charge against him false.

    The Joint Investigation Team, which was set up to probe the matter, placed records of statements made by the accusers and the Chinese national before the court.

    Naseeruddin, the SHO of Kamila police station and the main complainant in the case, appeared in court with records.

    The judge ruled in his order that three labourers — Gulistan, Shafi, Qadir — and their interpreter Yasir, had lodged the FIR on April 17, two days after the alleged incident on April 15.

    He observed that the three were neither able to produce evidence in support of their accusations in the court, nor could they prove charges in their statements before the JIT.

    The judge, said in his order that Yasir, the interpreter, was 35-40 feet away from the Chinese national, simply assuming that the former had uttered sacrilegious remarks.

    “Section 295-C of PPC says whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation or innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to be fined in light of the available record,” the judge quoted from the section pertaining to blasphemy.

    He further ruled that the case did not come within the ambit of “reasonable ground” as the blasphemy charge was the “result of a misunderstanding” and that the police station concerned in Kohistan had registered a “false case” against the Chinese national.

    The court ruled that according to record, no such offence was committed by the accused and hence he was granted bail.

    Maulana Waliullah Tohidi, a member of Ulema Jirga constituted by clerics after the alleged incident, said the release of the Chinese national was a judicial matter and “we accept it wholeheartedly”.

    He said, however, that Yasir the interpreter should be put on trial for “instigating the people of Kohistan to take to the streets”. “We (Kohistanis) are patriotic Pakistani and will never allow anybody within the country, or outside, to sabotage the Dasu project at any cost,” the Maulana added.

    The Dasu dam construction contract was awarded to the China Gezhouba Group Company in 2017, and the project is shrouded by tight security.

    It is among a number of Chinese firms that have taken on lucrative infrastructure contracts in Pakistan despite the security threats to Chinese nationals.

    Blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan, though no executions have ever been carried out for the crime.

    In December 2021, a Sri Lankan factory manager was beaten to death and set ablaze by a mob that accused him of blasphemy in the city of Sialkot in eastern Pakistan.

    Rights groups say hundreds of people are languishing in prison accused of blasphemy as judges delay trials, fearing retribution against themselves.

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