Christian Rickshaw Driver in Pakistan Jailed Under Blasphemy Charges

In a heart-wrenching turn of events, Dennis Albert, a 35-year-old Catholic rickshaw driver from Lahore, Pakistan, has been imprisoned under blasphemy charges since April 27. The nightmare began when Dennis, in an innocent attempt to shield his feet from the searing heat of the road, stepped out of his rickshaw and onto some scattered papers. Unbeknownst to him, these papers were claimed to be pages from the Quran, leading to his immediate arrest and life-altering charges.

The accusation came from Mubeen Ilyas, a Muslim passerby, who alleged that he witnessed Dennis standing barefoot on the sacred pages. Upon closer inspection, Ilyas realized that the papers contained Islamic scriptures and promptly reported Dennis to the Shadman Police. In a tragic twist, Dennis now faces severe repercussions under Pakistan’s stringent blasphemy laws: a potential 10-year imprisonment for hurting religious sentiments (Section 295-A) and a life sentence for defiling the Quran (Section 295-B).

Dennis’s brother, Imran Albert, recounts the harrowing moments leading to his brother’s detention. Dennis had just dropped off a passenger on Jail Road and was waiting for a new customer, with his shoes left inside the rickshaw. As he stepped out, his foot inadvertently landed on the papers. “My brother says he didn’t know that the pages were Islamic scripture,” Imran said, adding that Dennis was merely trying to protect his feet from the scorching pavement.

Despite his pleas of innocence and the lack of intent—a crucial element for conviction under the blasphemy laws—Dennis was assaulted by Ilyas and other bystanders before being handed over to the authorities. This incident underscores the perilous environment for religious minorities in Pakistan, where even an inadvertent act can spiral into a devastating legal and social ordeal.

As Dennis remains behind bars, his family grapples with fear and uncertainty, hoping for justice in a system where the mere accusation of blasphemy can irrevocably destroy lives.

“Dennis has studied till 10th grade, but he had no clue that the pages he was standing on had religious value,” Imran Albert said. “He’s a simple rickshaw driver, earning an honorable livelihood. He did not intend to hurt the religious sentiments of any person or community.”

The pain in Imran’s voice was palpable as he recounted the events following his brother’s arrest. By the time he reached the police station, Dennis had been sent to jail. “Police arrested him around 11 a.m., and he was sent to jail after a couple of hours on judicial remand,” he said.

Asad Jamal, Dennis Albert’s attorney, expressed his disbelief at the situation. The police had yet to submit the charge sheet against the impoverished rickshaw driver. “The charges are ridiculous, to say the least,” said Jamal, who was appointed by the Lahore-based Christian advocacy group, the Cecil and Iris Foundation, to defend Dennis.

Jamal explained the common practice among rickshaw drivers in Lahore to remove their shoes while driving due to the intense heat. He added that some pages of the Quran could have ended up on the roadside from baskets typically placed on streets to protect scriptures. “There’s nothing that proves that Dennis committed the act intentionally,” Jamal stated. “It seems that some individuals and groups have launched a campaign to target innocent people with blasphemy charges.”

The reality of Dennis’s situation is a heartbreaking testament to the peril faced by religious minorities in Pakistan. His family, attorney, and community can only watch and hope that justice will prevail, as an innocent man fights to reclaim his freedom and dignity.

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