Pakistan: Teenager detained over blasphemy

Pakistani police have detained and imprisoned a teenager for allegedly burning pages of the Quran outside a shrine, according to officials.

Asif Massih, an 18-year-old Christian, was arrested on blasphemy charges on the night of August 12, shortly after a complaint was lodged, police confirmed to Al Jazeera on Sunday.

The alleged incident took place in Jam Kayk Chattha village, which is near the town of Wazirabad in central Punjab province.

"He is in jail now," local police official Muhammad Asghar at the Alipur Chattha police station, where the case was registered, told Al Jazeera.

"When the police took the suspect into custody and brought him to a police check-post, a crowd of around 200 men gathered outside ... demanding the culprit be handed over to them," local police official Pervaiz Iqbal told AFP news agency.

"We then secretly moved the culprit to the police station in Wazirabad where he was interrogated and confessed to his crime."

Massih was charged under section 295-B of Pakistan's penal code, added Iqbal, referring to a part of the country's constitution that makes the death sentence mandatory for anyone who damages or desecrates the Quran.

He will stand trial and faces the possibility of being put to death.

'Law being misused'

Blasphemy against Islam is a sensitive subject in Pakistan, where punishment for the crime ranges from a fine to a mandatory death sentence, depending on the specific offence.

Currently, about 40 people are on death row or serving life sentences for blasphemy in Pakistan, according to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Increasingly, however, right-wing vigilantes and mobs have taken the law into their own hands, killing at least 71 people over alleged blasphemy since 1990, according to an Al Jazeera tally.

A Pakistani man was sentenced to death for committing blasphemy on Facebook in June.

In May, a 10-year old boy was killed, and five others were wounded when a mob attacked a police station in an attempt to lynch a Hindu man charged with blasphemy for allegedly posting an incendiary image on social media.

In April, a university student, Mashal Khan, was killed and two others wounded during a violent mob attack after being accused of committing blasphemy in the northern city of Mardan.

Legal experts and human rights activists in Pakistan have increasingly called for the law to be amended or abolished.

"This law is being misused by people to take revenge against their opponents, and it is very easy to charge anyone for blasphemy," Mehdi Hasan, chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told Al Jazeera from Lahore last week.