Priest, 3 Other Activists, Released in Pakistan

Jailed After Having Protested Stringent Blasphemy Law

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ISTANBUL, Pakistan, JAN. 18 (
A Karachi court has granted bail to a Catholic priest and three other religious rights activists detained since Jan. 10 for participating in a public protest against Pakistan´s stringent blasphemy law, the Compass Direct news service reported.

Father Arnold Heredia, a prominent rights activist, was released late Tuesday afternoon from Karachi´s Landhi Jail along with two other Christians and S.M. Haider, leader of the Fikra-e-Jasria sect of Shiite Islam. Each of the four was charged $485 in rupees for bail security.

Charges filed against the blasphemy law protesters ranged from unlawful assembly and obstructing public officials to armed rioting and attempted murder. Although a police officer present at their release claimed all the charges were being dropped and the case was being withdrawn within five days, Father Heredia said he didn´t believe “a word of what they said.”

“They are telling lies just because of the pressure on them,” the 60-year-old priest told Compass by telephone from Karachi.

A separate bail application to release 13 other demonstrators, all Muslims, is reportedly still pending before Karachi´s District South Sessions Court.

The three Christian and 14 Muslim protestors were detained after local police resorted to batons and tear gas to break up a multifaith procession at Karachi´s Empress Market in Saddar on the afternoon of Jan. 10. Police officials declared the protest an “unlawful assembly.”

The Karachi authorities´ handling of the protest was criticized by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan chairman, Afrasiab Khattak, who said the police´s heavy-handed actions were “excessive” and needless. The participants were peaceful, he said, constituting “no threat to peace and order, and there was no need for police to resort to a fierce baton-charge and fire tear-gas shells against the demonstrators.”

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