Mentally ill woman jailed on blasphemy charges

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A 60-year-old Catholic woman who has been treated for mental illness was jailed on

One of the locked homes of Christians who fled Cantonment area of Lahore, Pakistan after blasphemy allegation on June 4, 2024. (Christian Daily International-Morning Star News)

blasphemy charges this week in Lahore, Pakistan, her son said.

Jameela Khatoon was arrested on Tuesday (June 4) from her house in Lahore’s Cantonment area on a complaint of Muslim shopkeeper Asif Ali, said her son, 41-year-old Sunny Gill.

Ali registered a First Information Report (FIR) with the North Cantt Police Station under Section 295-C of the blasphemy law against blaspheming Muhammad, which carries a mandatory death penalty.

Area shopkeepers are so familiar with Khatoon’s mental illness that they allow her to take items without paying, knowing her relatives will pay them later, and Ali also was aware of her condition when she came into his shop and allegedly began saying derogatory things about Muhammad after noticing a Muslim prayer mounted on a wall, Gill said.

“Ali also knows about her illness, and we are surprised as to why he filed a case against her,” Gill told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News.

His mother had noticed the Arabic Durood Shareef Islamic prayer on the wall behind the counter when she allegedly began uttering derogatory remarks about Muhammad, said Christ was greater than the prophet of Islam and began screaming and shouting, he said.

“In the FIR, Ali has claimed that when he and some other Muslims tried to stop my mother from blaspheming against their prophet, she started walking towards her home but kept insulting Muhammad,” Gill said.

The oldest of Khatoon’s four children, Gill said he was not at home when police arrived at their shared living quarters two hours after the incident and arrested her.

“My wife and I had gone to buy groceries when police came to our house and told my younger brother’s wife that they were taking my mother on theft charges,” he said. “Till then, no one in our family knew what had actually happened.”

Gill said his mother’s mental health began deteriorating four years ago.

“We have taken her to the Punjab Institute of Mental Health several times for treatment, but she hasn’t improved much,” he said.

Gill, who works as a cleaner at the Lahore Cantonment Board, said the family has tried to keep Khatoon from harming herself, but they hadn’t anticipated she would be held for blasphemy.

“We have tried our best to keep her in the house, but she refuses to stay confined and becomes violent,” he said.

Gill said he hoped police and courts would take his mother’s mental illness into account and dismiss the serious charge.

“My mother didn’t know what she was saying or doing,” he said. “It would be very unfair to keep her in prison with such a medical condition. We hope that the court will drop the charges against her on compassionate grounds.”

Attorney Liaquat John, who is defending defend Khatoon, said he would file an application for a medical board to ascertain Khatoon’s mental health.

“If the board certifies the mental unsoundness of Khatoon, the court cannot proceed with the trial,” John told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News.

Pakistani law does afford protections to people with mental illness or disabilities. Section 464 of the Criminal Procedures Code (CrPC) states that people of “unsound mind” who are incapable of assisting in their defense cannot be tried.

Similarly, Section 84 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) states, “an accused cannot be held criminally responsible for an act if, at the time of committing it, the individual, due to unsoundness of mind, was incapable of knowing the nature of the act, or that the act was wrong or illegal.”

John further said that the FIR did not state the derogatory words she was alleged to have spoken against Islam’s prophet, which is a strong basis for obtaining bail if charges are not dropped on health grounds.

“The complainant has not stated the exact words said by Khatoon that amount to blasphemy, whereas the Supreme Court has clearly said in its judgments that the FIR must contain the words spoken,” John said.

The attorney is awaiting the police investigation report and charge sheet before applying for bail, he said. About 40-45 Christian families lived in their Bael Ahata neighborhood, and most have fled their homes fearing a mob attack.

“Our priority right now is to ensure the security and safe return of the Christian dwellers of the locality who are fearful of mob violence,” John said. “Though the area police have assured us that there will be no protest by Muslims, we have requested them to deploy personnel in the neighborhood, particularly on Friday when Muslims congregate for their weekly mass prayers.”

Gill said the family has not received any threats from area residents.

“Though there have been no protests by Muslims against this incident, yet many Christians have moved to safer places,” he said.

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. — Morning Star News
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Photo: One of the locked homes of Christians who fled Cantonment area of Lahore, Pakistan after blasphemy allegation on June 4, 2024. (Christian Daily International-Morning Star News)