By Asad Hashim
ISLAMABAD, June 20 – Pakistani police arrested a man under the majority-Muslim country’s strict blasphemy laws on Monday for selling shoes with a sacred Hindu symbol, police and Hindu leaders said.
The shopkeeper, Jahanzaib Khaskhili, was arrested 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 200 km (120 miles) 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 for defiling the Koran or insulting the Prophet Muhammad that carry a life sentence and mandatory death sentence, respectively.
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,” said Ali, adding that police were 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, including forced conversions and economic discrimination.