2 Christian youths booked on blasphemy charges in Pakistan's Punjab

Lahore, February 17 (PTI): Two Christian youths have been booked on blasphemy charges in Pakistan's Punjab province, police said on Wednesday.

"Model Town Police (in Lahore) have registered an FIR against two Christian youths under sections 295-A, 295-B and 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC)," Superintendent of Police Asim Iftikhar told reporters here.

"We are raiding the whereabouts of the suspects and soon arrest them," he said, adding that the law and order situation in the area has been under control.

According to the FIR, complaint Haroon Ahmed, a student, alleged that both accused had made blasphemous remarks during a discussion on religion.

Section 295-C carries death penalty while section 295-B carries a life sentence and section 295-A has imprisonment up to 10 years.

Pakistan's blasphemy laws and their prescribed punishments are considered extremely severe. The people accused of blasphemy are usually deprived of the right to a counsel of their choice as most lawyers refuse to take up such sensitive cases.

The blasphemy laws are colonial-era legislation but they were amended by former military dictator General Ziaul Haq which increased the severity of prescribed punishments.

The rights campaigners say blasphemy laws are often used to settle personal disputes in the Muslim-majority country.

A US government advisory panel report says Pakistan used blasphemy laws more than any other country in the world.

Mere allegations of blasphemy have triggered violence against minorities like Christians. Several persons accused of committing blasphemy have been lynched in recent years.

Christians constitute around 2 per cent of the population in Pakistan. Karachi, Lahore and Faisalabad have a large Christian population. There are many Christian villages in the Punjab heartland, while there is also a sizeable population in the deeply conservative north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, particularly in Peshawar city.