Peshawar (Reuters) – A Chinese national arrested in Pakistan on blasphemy charges was released on bail on Friday, police said, a rare move in the South Asian nation where judges often postpone such cases for years fearing retribution.
The man, who worked at a hydro-power project in northern Dasu and was not identified by police for fear of reprisals, was accused by fellow workers last week of insulting the Prophet Muhammad.
Blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan and though no one has ever been executed, numerous people have been lynched by outraged mobs after being accused, including a man in February and a Sri Lankan factory manager in 2021.
The court approved bail for the defandant on Thursday, regional police chief Imtiaz Ayub said. The court said it had granted bail because there alleged offence appeared to be “the result of a misunderstanding”.
It was not immediately clear when he will return to court to face trial.
A Pakistani governor and a minister have been killed in recent years for attempting to seeking amendments to the blasphemy laws, which are considered the world’s harshest after Iran.
The alleged insult took place at the site of a hydropower project in the northwestern district of Kohistan. Workers accused that man of using derogatory remarks against the prophet, police said.
China is a major ally and investor in Pakistan and its workers have on occasion been attacked by militants fighting the Pakistani government.
Islamist militants were accused of a suicide bomb attack on a bus in 2021 that killed nine Chinese nationals working on the same hydropower project.
Rights groups say accusations of blasphemy are sometimes made to settle scores and hundreds of people are languishing in prison awaiting trial.