Pakistani police have arrested a Muslim man under the majority-Muslim country’s strict blasphemy laws for selling shoes with a sacred Hindu symbol, according to police and Hindu community leaders
Jahanzaib Khaskhili, a shopkeeper, was arrested on Monday in the southern town of Tando Adam and the shoes, which carried the ‘Om’ symbol, were confiscated, said Farrukh Ali, the district police chief.
Hindu community leaders called for the shopkeeper to be punished.
“The state must play a proactive role in punishing the culprits under the blasphemy laws,” Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, the patron of the Pakistani Hindu Council, said in a statement.
Tando Adam, about 200km northeast of Karachi, is in Sindh province, where the vast majority of Pakistan’s approximately three million Hindus live.
The blasphemy laws make it a crime to insult any religion and have specific sections, on defiling the Quran or insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, that carry a life sentence and mandatory death sentence, respectively.
“The state must play a proactive role in punishing the culprits under the blasphemy laws”
If convicted, the shopkeeper faces a maximum of 10 years in prison, in addition to a possible fine. Ali, the police chief, said Khaskhili had cooperated with authorities and appeared not to have intended to inflame religious sentiment.
“We will do this according to law, but prima facie it seems that he did not have any intention,” he said.
Ali said the police are now investigating the supplier of the shoes, who is based in Punjab province.
“The responsibility in this case will be with the people who actually manufactured the shoes … they would probably have done it intentionally,” he said
Pakistani rights groups say Hindus are often at risk of discrimination and hate crimes in the country, including forced conversions and economic discrimination.