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Chinese engineer on CPEC project targeted for blasphemy in Pakistan

Pakistan arrests Chinese national over blasphemy (Photo: Pamir Times)

Police in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa arrested a Chinese engineer after an angry mob attempted to lynch him over blasphemy remarks related to slow pace of work at the Dasu hydropower project. The incident comes close to how Sri Lankan national Priyantha Kumara was mercilessly beaten and his body burnt by a radical mob of his own factory which accused him of blasphemy.

The incident is bound to further deflate Beijing-Islamabad relations which are already bitter over the killings of Chinese nationals in Pakistan. China has taken up the matter of attacks on its nationals with current prime minister Shehbaz Sharif as well as former prime minister Imran Khan.

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reports that the engineer of the China Gezhouba Group Company was arrested by police on Sunday evening from the Dasu hydropower project, being built by China on the Indus river as part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Pakistani labourers gathered outside the engineers office on Sunday after he reportedly made comments about the slow pace of work during Ramadan. The news about the alleged blasphemy attracted more people who were prevented from attacking the Chinese national. The police had to open fire to stop the agitated crowd from assaulting the Chinese engineer.

The Pamir Times says that the incensed workers gathered outside the Chinese workers’ camp and pelted stones. Angry mobs blocked the Karakoram highway that connects Pakistan to China.

The Dasu hydropower project has remained controversial due to delays over funding and the killing of Chinese engineers in 2021. Beijing forced Islamabad to pay blood money for the killed Chinese engineers.

The gathering of the mob over blasphemy is not a one-off event. It is a pointer to the fast-deteriorating  security environment in Pakistan where the police went down closing Chinese businesses in its largest commercial city Karachi to ostensibly protect Chinese nationals.

Recently, China shut down the consular section of its Islamabad embassy owing to the poor security situation in the country. Simultaneously, Beijing also advised its nationals to enhance safety measures with increasing attacks by the Pakistani Taliban, also known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) and Baloch insurgents across the nation, making Chinese nationals vulnerable.

Allegations of blasphemy in Pakistan have led to mob violence, killings and burnings. It is a crime that brings the death penalty upon the accused. Pakistan currently has nearly four lakh blasphemy cases that have not been addressed so far, according to the Lahore bar association.

The Sharif government had recently strengthened the anti-blasphemy laws with the Pakistani parliament unanimously passing the amendment in January 2023 enhancing the minimum punishment from three to 10 years for people insulting personalities of Islam with a fine of 10 lakh Pakistani rupees. If proven, blasphemy is punishable by death or life imprisonment.

A Sunni Pakistan has used the blasphemy laws to step up persecution of its Hindu, Sikh and Christian minorities.

The country has also exported the blasphemy laws to other places such as the UK, where local mobs and mosques have threatened school teachers and children with attacks. Many British people and their families have gone underground owing to death threats by local Muslims.

Also read: European Union warns Pakistan on blasphemy laws, women rights