A Pakistani anti-terrorism court has sent a Chinese national to jail on 14-day judicial remand on blasphemy charges in the restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province after he was arrested on Monday, according to media reports on Tuesday.
The police arrested the Chinese national identified as Tian on Sunday and on Monday he was shifted to Abbottabad via an Army helicopter due to security concerns as the police feared local people could harm him.
Tian was booked on blasphemy charges and sent to prison on a 14-day judicial remand by an Abbottabad anti-terrorism court on Monday, the Dawn newspaper reported.
The Chinese citizen, a manager at the Dasu Hydropower Project, the biggest hydropower project in Pakistan, in the Upper Kohistan district of the province, allegedly made blasphemous remarks on Friday when the workers were going to perform the weekly prayer.
According to local people, the Chinese manager complained to workers at the dam that ”precious time” was being lost due to prayer breaks.
The Dasu Hydropower Project is a major venture under the USD 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CEPC).
”We have arrested the foreigner suspect under blasphemy and terrorism charges and airlifted him from here to present him before the anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Abbottabad,” district police officer (DPO) Upper Kohistan, Mohammad Khalid, was quoted as saying in the report.
The suspect was later produced before the ATC amid strict security measures. The DPO said the Chinese national was moved to Islamabad onboard a helicopter on Monday evening, the report said.
The police registered a first information report (FIR) against Tian at the Dasu police station on Monday, hours after hundreds of residents and labourers working on the dam project blocked a key highway and rallied, demanding his arrest.
Under Pakistan's tough blasphemy laws, the offence carries the death penalty.
According to the officer, the police swung into action after getting reports on Sunday night that a local mob tried to break into a Chinese camp near the project site.
The mob was controlled, but they assembled again on Monday and blocked the Karakoram Highway, which links Pakistan with China, in a protest that lasted for over six to seven hours, demanding the Chinese national's arrest.
The blocked highway was later reopened to traffic, and work resumed at the Dasu Dam after Tian's arrest.
In Beijing, China's foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said the embassy in Islamabad was verifying the information.
"The Chinese government always asks Chinese nationals overseas to abide by laws and regulations of the host countries and respect local customs and traditions. If the incident involves Chinese nationals, our embassy will provide consular protection and assistance within the purview of its duty," Wang told reporters in response to a question at a regular news briefing.
Meanwhile, in a bid to defuse the situation, a team of Ulema from nearby towns and villages have set up a committee to examine the situation.
The meeting was attended, among others, by Upper Kohistan deputy commissioner Irfanullah Mehsood and district police officer Mohammad Khalid.
The participants urged the agitators not to take the law into their hands as police and the district administration were ”handling the matter admirably”.
Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Pakistan. On December 3, 2021, a Sri Lankan national working in a factory in Sialkot was lynched by a mob after workers accused him of blasphemy.
The Dasu Hydropower Project site was hit by a suicide bus blast in July 2021, in which 13 people, including nine Chinese nationals, were killed.
Nine Chinese nationals and two Frontier Corps soldiers were among those killed when the bus carrying Chinese engineers and workers to the site of the under-construction Dasu Dam exploded.
The Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), in a report in January 2022, stated that as many as 89 citizens were killed in 1,415 accusations and cases of blasphemy in the country since independence.
The report said that from 1947 to 2021, 18 women and 71 men were extra-judicially killed over blasphemy accusations. The allegations were made against 107 women and 1,308 men.
A large number of Chinese nationals have been working in Pakistan on various projects being undertaken under the CEPC.