Christian in Pakistan Jailed for Stepping on Papers in Street

Rickshaw driver was trying to protect his feet from hot road.

Badshahi Mosque, Lahore, Pakistan. (Romero Maia, Creative Commons)

Badshahi Mosque, Lahore, Pakistan. (Romero Maia, Creative Commons)

LAHORE, Pakistan (Christian Daily InternationalMorning Star News) – A Catholic has been jailed under blasphemy charges since April 27 in Lahore, Pakistan for inadvertently stepping out of his rickshaw onto some papers said to be pages of the Quran, sources said.

Dennis Albert, a 35-year-old rickshaw driver, was booked under one section of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison (Section 295-A, hurting religious sentiments), and another that mandates life in prison (Section 295-B, defiling the Quran).

Shadman Police in Lahore arrested him on the complaint of Mubeen Ilyas, a Muslim passerby who alleged he saw Albert standing on some pages barefoot near a rickshaw, and that after closely looking at them, he found that they were Islamic scriptures.

Albert’s brother, Imran Albert, said the accused had dropped a passenger on Jail Road and was waiting for a new customer.

“My brother says that his shoes were in the rickshaw, and when he stepped out of his three-wheeler to wait for a new customer, he inadvertently stepped on some pieces of paper on the roadside,” Imran Albert told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News. “Dennis didn’t now that the pages were Islamic scripture.”

Dennis Albert was just protecting his feet from the heat of the road, he said. Under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, intent must be proven for conviction.

Imran Albert said that Ilyas and other Muslims assaulted him even as he pleaded his innocence.

“Dennis has studied till 10th grade, but he had no clue that the pages he was standing on had religious value,” Imran Albert said. “He’s a simple rickshaw driver earning an honorable livelihood for himself. He did not have any intention of hurting religious sentiments of any person or community.”

Imran Albert said that by the time he reached the police station, his brother had already been sent to jail.

“Police arrested him around 11 a.m., and he was sent to jail after a couple of hours on judicial remand,” he said.

Asad Jamal, Dennis Albert’s attorney, said the police had not yet submitted the charge-sheet against the impoverished rickshaw driver.

“The charges are ridiculous to say the least,” said Jamal, appointed by Lahore-based Christian advocacy group the Cecil and Iris Foundation to defend Dennis Albert.

Jamal said it was common for rickshaw drivers in Lahore to take off their shoes while driving their vehicles due to the scorching heat. He added that it is quite possible that some pages of the Quran may have found their way to the roadside from baskets customarily placed on streets to protect scriptures.

“There’s nothing that proves that Dennis has committed the act intentionally,” Jamal told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News. “It seems that some individuals and groups have launched a campaign to target innocent people with blasphemy charges.”

Jamal co-authored a fact-finding mission report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) into the lynching of 74-year-old Nazeer Masih Gill in Sargodha on May 25. Jamal, a Muslim, has defended several blasphemy suspects, including Junaid Hafeez, a former Fullbright scholar at Bahauddin Zakariya University in Multan who was sentenced to death on Dec. 21, 2019, after students accused him of insulting the Prophet Muhammad on social media in 2013.

Imran Albert said he has sent his family to Karachi to keep them from potential Islamist retaliation, and that he has lived with other relatives since his brother’s arrest.

“We live in the Qurban Lines area where two Christian boys were arrested and charged with blasphemy last year for allegedly insulting the prophet of Islam,” he said. “There was a lot of tension in our locality when the two were arrested, so I felt it would be safer not to stay in our rented house there. Though we have been very discreet about Dennis’s arrest, and very few people know about the case, I feel it’s best to find a new abode.”

Adil Masih, 18, and 14-year-old Simon Nadeem Masih, were arrested and charged under Section 295-C of the blasphemy statutes on May 18, 2023, when Muslim policeman Zahid Sohail accused them of blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad.

The two Christians were engaged in light-hearted banter when Sohail attacked them, alleging that they were disrespecting Muhammad and then laughing over it. Section 295-C carries a mandatory death sentence for insulting the Muslim prophet.

Imran Albert said that during his recent meeting with his brother at jail, Dennis Albert suggested he cease efforts to defend him.

“He’s losing hope for his freedom,” Imran Albert said. “He’s being kept in a special barrack reserved for blasphemy accused, and it seems after hearing their stories of prolonged imprisonment, Dennis has started thinking that the effort is futile. I keep encouraging him not to give up and remain steadfast in his faith. I understand that it is not easy, but I believe God will make a way for my brother and he’ll be free from the false accusation.”

Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2024 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, as it was the previous year.

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  1. Sorry, they were on the street where they did not belong. Stop blaming the guy who stepped on the papers. Blame the person who put them there.

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