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An eight-year-old boy has become the youngest ever person charged under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, with activists warning he could face the death penalty.
The child is currently being held in protective custody, while his family have fled their homes to go into hiding after a Muslim crowd set fire to a Hindu temple in response to claims that the boy had ‘intentionally’ urinated on the carpet of a library where religious books were kept.
More than 20 people have been arrested in connection with the attacks, while several members of the local Hindu community have left the district of Rahim Yar Khan in Punjab over fears that more religiously motivated attacks may occur.
Legal experts say they have been ‘shocked’ by the charges, with blasphemy laws having never previously been used on a child this young. A number of people have been sentenced to death under Pakistan’s extreme laws over recent decades, and while the country has never actually carried out an execution since the death penalty was introduced for blasphemy in 1986, The Guardian reports that mob killings of suspects have been known to happen.
Activists in Pakistan have called on the government to step in, with human rights campaigner Kapil Dev saying, ‘I demand charges against the boy are immediately dropped, and urge the government to provide security for the family and those forced to flee.’
Lawmaker and head of the Pakistan Hindu Council Ramesh Kumar said: ‘The attack on the temple and blasphemy allegations against the eight-year-old minor boy has really shocked me. More than a hundred homes of the Hindu community have been emptied due to fear of attack.’
The family of the boy, who has not been publicly identified, told The Guardian that he didn’t understand why he’d been arrested, saying, ‘He is not even aware of such blasphemy issues and he has been falsely indulged in these matters. He still doesn’t understand what his crime was and why he was kept in jail for a week.’
‘We have left our shops and work, the entire community is scared and we fear backlash. We don’t want to return to this area. We don’t see any concrete and meaningful action will be taken against the culprits or to safeguard the minorities living here,’ they said.
Religious mob attacks have been growing in Pakistan in recent years, with the US Commission on International Religious Freedoms reporting that the country sees the highest number of incidents of mob violence anywhere in the world as a result of alleged blasphemy, with Hindus the primary targets of such violence.
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