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Chinese National Arrested on Blasphemy Charges in Pakistan

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Chinese National Arrested on Blasphemy Charges in Pakistan

The accusation emerged from a workplace spat where the Chinese national objected to local workers taking too much time to pray.

Chinese National Arrested on Blasphemy Charges in Pakistan

Supporters of a religious group Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan chant slogans during a rally against a woman recently arrested on blasphemy charges, in Lahore, Pakistan, Monday, April 17, 2023.

Credit: AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary

Pakistani police arrested a Chinese national on blasphemy charges after he allegedly insulted Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, authorities said Monday. Under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws, the offense carries the death penalty.

Police identified the man only as Mr. Tian from China and said he was arrested on Sunday night, hours after hundreds of residents and laborers working on a dam project blocked a key highway and rallied to demand his arrest.

The rally took place in the town of Komela — located close to the site of the Dasu Dam, the biggest hydropower project in Pakistan — in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which borders Afghanistan, according to local police chief Naseer Khan.

Khan said officers quickly responded to the protests by “rescuing and arresting” the Chinese national. According to Khan, the accusations arose from a workplace disagreement: Tian allegedly became upset and reprimanded two local drivers for taking too much time from work to pray. Other laborers then claimed he had insulted the prophet.

Police said Tian, who was in charge of heavy transport at the project, will be tried under blasphemy laws if investigators prove he insulted Islam. There was no immediate comment from the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad.

The blocked highway later reopened to traffic and work resumed at the Dasu Dam, which has scores of Chinese and hundreds of Pakistanis working on the project, Khan said.

Mob attacks on people accused of blasphemy and even lynching attacks are common in Pakistan, a conservative Muslim country. Rights groups say blasphemy accusations have often been used to intimidate religious minorities and settle personal scores.

Videos circulating on social media showed an angry mob demonstrating outside a sprawling compound housing Chinese and Pakistani construction workers in Komela. The demonstrators can be heard chanting “God is great” as security forces fire shots in the air to disperse the crowds.

Although arrests of Muslims and non-Muslims on charges of blasphemy are common in Pakistan, foreigners are rarely among those arrested.

In 2021, however, a mob lynched a Sri Lankan man at a sports factory in eastern Punjab province and later burned his body in public over allegations he desecrated posters bearing the name of the Prophet Muhammad.

In July 2021, work on the Dasu Dam was suspended for several months following a deadly suicide attack targeting a bus carrying Chinese and Pakistani nationals in the Kohistan district, where the dam is located. The bombing killed 13 people, including nine Chinese nationals.

The Chinese resumed work on the project last year, when Pakistan enhanced security. Pakistani and Chinese engineers are trying to complete the project by 2026.

Monday’s developments came days after Punjab police arrested a Muslim woman on charges of blasphemy after she allegedly claimed she was an Islamic prophet. She was taken into custody from her home after a mob had gathered outside demanding that she be lynched after news spread of her alleged claims of prophethood.

Meanwhile, a mob of Sunni Muslims demolished a minaret at a mosque belonging to the minority Ahmadis in Sargodha district in Punjab, the minority’s spokesman said.

There are about half a million of Ahmadis in Pakistan, which has a population of 220 million. Pakistan declared Ahmadis non-Muslims in 1974. Ahmadi homes and places of worship are often targeted by Sunni militants who consider them heretics.

Amir Mahmood, a spokesman for the Ahmadi community, said the attack happened overnight and allegedly in the presence of police. There was no immediate comment from the police.