KARACHI — A group of protesters suspected of ransacking a Hindu temple in Karachi may be charged with blasphemy, police said Sunday.
The case is a rare twist on the use of the country's harsh blasphemy laws, which are more often invoked against offences to Islam as opposed to minority faiths.
Police officer Mohammad Hanif said the anti-Hindu attack took place Sept 21. The government had declared that day a national holiday — a ‘Day of Love for the Prophet’ — and called on people to demonstrate peacefully against a US-made anti-Islam film.
Hanif said dozens of Muslims led by a cleric converged on the outskirts of Karachi in a Hindu neighbourhood commonly known as Hindu Goth. The protesters attacked the Sri Krishna Ram temple, broke religious statues, tore up a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu scripture, and beat up the temple's caretaker, Sindha Maharaj.
"The attackers broke the statues of (Hindu deities) Radha, Hanuman, Parwati and Krishna, and took away the decorative gold ornaments," Maharaj said. "They also stormed my home and snatched the gold jewellery of my family, my daughters."
Maharaj and other Hindu leaders turned to the police, who registered a case against the cleric and eight other Muslims. But none of the suspects had been found as of Sunday, Hanif said.
The police officer said the case against the attackers was registered under Section 295-A of the blasphemy laws, which covers the ‘outraging of religious feelings’.
That section of the law can carry a fine or up to 10 years imprisonment, but, if the case were to proceed, it's unclear exactly what punishment would be imposed.
Court decisions in the past have often confused what penalties should be applied in blasphemy cases in the country. And although many blasphemous acts are said to require the death penalty, Pakistan is not known to have executed anyone under the law. Still, many of the accused have been killed by extremists outside the courts.