Christian teen accused of burning Koran face death sentence and mob violence

A Pakistani Christian teen who was arrested on Aug. 12 on blasphemy charges after being accused of burning pages of the Koran now faces a possible death sentence if he is convicted or mob violence at the hands of the local Muslim community.

(REUTERS / Mohsin Raza)A rally in Lahore protesting the killing of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer in Lahore because of his opposition to Pakistan's blasphemy law. January 8, 2011.

Asif Massih, 18, has been accused of burning pages of the Koran outside a Muslim shrine in Jam Kayk Chattha village Wazirabad in Punjab province. Police had to transfer him to another station after an angry mob crowded around the one he was previously detained in and demanded that authorities hand him over, Fox News detailed.

"He is on judicial remand on the order of the judge," Alipur Chattha police spokesperson Malik Irfan explained to Fox. "People had witnessed that Massih had burnt the Holy Koran by pouring petrol on it outside Muslim shrine."

Reports showed that at least 71 individuals have been killed in hardline mob attacks over blasphemy allegations since 1990. In April, a student mob killed university student Mashal Khanin in the city of Mardan over false accusations of blasphemy.

In Pakistan, blasphemy is a highly sensitive issue, and there are dozens of convicts who are lined up on death row over allegations of insulting the Prophet Muhammad or desecrating the Muslims' Holy Book. In some cases, even unproven accusations can stir mob lynching.

Last month, the Islamabad High Court requested parliament to make reforms to Pakistan's blasphemy law to prevent false accusations of the crime. In his order, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui suggested the death penalty for people who will cast false blasphemy accusations, Al Jazeera reported.

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan's chairman Mehdi Hasan welcomed Justice Siddiqui's order. He told Al Jazeera that the blasphemy law was being abused by people to settle personal disputes.

Despite the positive reactions to the recommendation, legal experts see little hope in the revision or repeal of Pakistan's blasphemy law. Previous attempts to do the same were reportedly unsuccessful.