Pakistan police clear educator of 'blasphemy'
LAHORE, Pakistan (BP) -- Police resisted intense pressure from Islamist protestors in Pakistan and released in February without charges a Christian educator falsely accused of desecrating the Quran.
Muslim teachers at the Lahore-area City Foundation School accused school principal Saira Khokhar of desecrating a quranic scripture booklet on Feb. 22.
When Khokhar joined the school in 2009 as the only Christian amid a 14-member faculty, she told Compass sources that one teacher resigned in protest, further predisposing other teachers against her. The only other Christian employee of the school is a security guard.
In the February incident, police sustained injuries from irate Islamists in rescuing Khokhar from the mob. Police superintendent Imtiaz Sarwar subsequently told Compass that after a thorough investigation he concluded that school staff members had falsely accused her.
"The minute I interviewed the staff members, I knew that the charge against Saira was completely fabricated," Sarwar said.
Sarwar commended his officers for putting their lives at risk while rescuing the school principal from the mob that was demanding she be handed over to them for "swift justice."
"Such an attitude cannot be allowed under any circumstances," Sarwar said. "No one should dare take the law into their hands. All suspects are innocent until proven guilty."
The police superintendent acknowledged that in most blasphemy cases not all suspects were as fortunate as Khokhar.
"Such cases are extremely sensitive," Sarwar said. "The police had to face the severe reaction by the majority and at the same time secure the suspect. It's regretful that in most cases officials have not been able to face the pressure."
A school cleaner alleged that Khokhar had deliberately thrown a "Surrah-e-Yaseen" booklet into a dustbin while clearing the cupboards of her office. Upon hearing this accusation, some Muslim teachers rushed up to the principal and demanded an apology.
"I told my teachers that I didn't even know that the booklet was there, as the maid was helping me clean the cupboards," Khokhar told sources at the police station. "She should have brought the booklet to my notice right then, but she deliberately took the dustbin to the staff room and instigated the teachers."
The Muslim teachers went home after she told them that she was unaware of the booklet's presence amid the trash and was sorry for the inadvertent incident.
"The next day [Feb. 23], as soon as I reached the school and sat in my office, a teacher named Asma rushed into the village and started shouting that I, 'a Christian,' had desecrated the Quran yesterday," Khokhar told Compass sources. "Within minutes, a large mob gathered outside the school and started shouting slogans against me."
Police later arrived at the school and, led by a deputy superintendent of police, Malik Ijaz, began trying to rescue Khokhar as the Muslim mob pelted them with stones. Officers responded with a baton charge and managed to whisk her away despite several policemen, including Ijaz, receiving head and body injuries, sources said.
Police rushed Khokhar to the office of Superintendent Sarwar, who in the meantime had reached the village and had begun investigating.
"The Muslim teachers made a mountain out of a molehill just because of my faith," Khokhar told Compass sources. "A teacher had resigned in protest the same day I joined the school, so there was an element of prejudice present in the staff."
Three years passed without any trouble, however, and she said he was able to maintain a good working relationship with her staff.
A senior government official has taken measures to ensure that the principal remains safe following her release. Unconfirmed reports indicated Muslims have protested against police after Friday prayers for releasing Khokhar.
Compass Direct News (www.compassdirect.org), based in Santa Ana, Calif., focuses on Christians worldwide who are persecuted for their faith. Used by permission. For a recent overview of pressures facing Christians in Pakistan, go to www.bpnews.net/printerfriendly.asp?ID=37309.