Pakistani police have opened a blasphemy case against a teenage Christian boy accused of sending derogatory text messages about Islam’s prophet to neighbors in the southern city of Karachi, an official said on Friday.
The 17-year-old is in hiding after neighbors angrily came to his house on Wednesday to inquire about the text messages, senior police officer Shahid Hayat said.
The mob ransacked the family’s home and then lodged a formal complaint against the boy with police, Hayat said.
Under Pakistani law, opening a case does not mean that the person is charged with a crime, but that police are investigating. However, people convicted of maligning the Prophet Mohammed can be sentenced to death.
According to Hayat, the boy told neighbors he forwarded the messages without reading them.
Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws, sections of which carry the death penalty or life imprisonment, have drawn renewed international scrutiny this year after a Christian girl in Islamabad was alleged to have desecrated the Koran.
A Muslim cleric now stands accused of fabricating evidence against the girl, who has been freed on bail.
Human rights activists say the blasphemy laws are too broad and vague, and are often used by people who are trying to settle scores with rivals or target religious minorities, who make up 5 percent of Pakistan’s 180 million people.
Although many Muslims are accused of insulting Mohammed or other acts deemed blasphemous, minorities are disproportionately represented among the defendants, rights groups say.
However, the laws retain broad support in Pakistan, where Islamic conservatism is on the rise alongside extremism and many Muslims are highly sensitive about their faith.