US Senator calls for release of Hindu teacher jailed in Pakistan for blasphemy

Express News Service

NEW DELHI: US Senator Marco Antonio Rubio has asked for the release of a Hindu teacher Notan Lal who was falsely accused of blasphemy and imprisoned for 25 years in Pakistan’s Sindh. 

“Notal Lal was arrested for committing blasphemy based on false testimony and sentenced to 25 years in a Pakistan prison. We ask for his release. Pakistan is a country of particular concern for religious freedom violations,” Senator Rubio said in a tweet.

Notan Lal has been languishing in a prison in Sukkur in Sindh since 2019. His sentence was announced last month, in which he was asked to pay Rs 50,000 as fine and serve a 25-year term in prison.

Despite finding no evidence against Lal, he continues to be in prison. According to some media reports in Pakistan, his student (Mohammad Ihtisham) took to social media and confessed that he had cooked up the charges levelled against his teacher and even sought forgiveness.

This arrest also led to communal violence, desecration of temples, and burning of shops owned by Hindus. The violence spread to towns like Mirpur, Mathelo, and Adilpur.

According to a think tank based in Pakistan, the Centre for Research and Security Studies, Pakistan has reported a total of 1,415 cases of blasphemy in the country since partition in 1947. Out of this around 18 women and 71 men were extra-judicially killed over blasphemy.

The think-tank also says that the actual cases would be much higher as not all cases are reported. More than 70 per cent of such cases were reported from Punjab. Meanwhile, last month the European Parliament had called for a resolution to review the Generalised Schemes of Preference Plus (GSP+) status granted to Pakistan due to an alarming level of increase in the use of blasphemy accusations across the country. Besides, they had taken note of rising number of online and offline attacks on journalists and civil society organisations.

Pakistan is worried about this as it could mean temporary withdrawal of their status and benefits that come with it. EU’s GSP removes import duties from products coming into the EU market from vulnerable developing countries. This helps developing countries to alleviate poverty and create jobs based on international values and principles, including labour and human rights.

During the 6th round of the EU-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue (held in Brussels in December), the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of European Commission Josep Borrell expressed concern over the human rights situation in Pakistan.

The EU had maintained that Pakistan had failed to make meaningful advances iN protecting human rights, particularly in relation to the controversial blasphemy laws.