Pakistan court jails hate cleric for five years

Unidentified relatives of the victims of the suicide bomb attack on a Shiite Mosque, react to the deaths of their loved ones, at a local hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan, 13 February 2015 Image copyright EPA
Image caption Thousands of Pakistanis have been killed or bereaved by religious violence

A court in Pakistan has jailed a Muslim prayer leader for five years for inciting religious hatred.

Qari Abubaker was convicted in the city of Lahore of calling minority Shia Muslims "infidels".

At least six other clerics have been jailed for similar offences in the past two months in Lahore, officials say.

Inciting religious hatred is against the law in Pakistan but rarely reported or punished. Thousands have been killed in sectarian violence in recent years.

The BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says because reporters are not allowed inside anti-terrorism courts, rulings rarely attract attention.

For security reasons court officials have told reporters not to name judges involved in the cases.

Officials say recent arrests of prayer leaders on hate speech charges have been made under the so-called National Action Plan against terrorism.

Pakistan tightened its anti-terrorism laws after militants killed more than 150 people in a school in Peshawar on 16 December.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Sectarian attacks continue - here Ismaili Shias mourn victims of a Karachi bus attack last week

The offence for which Abubaker was convicted took place in the town of Kot Radha Kishan in Kasur district near Lahore. He can appeal in the high court.

"The imam was found guilty of inciting hatred against Shia people and raised slogans during his sermon that Shias were infidels," one official told AFP news agency.

Any act or speech which incites sectarian hatred - wilfully or inadvertently - carries a potential prison sentence of up to seven years in Pakistan.

Dawn newspaper reported that as many as 21 people had been convicted under this law since the school attack, but details of those cases are not yet available, our correspondent reports.

Most Pakistanis are Sunni Muslims. The country has seen increased attacks against Shias and other minority faiths since the rise of hardline Wahhabism during the conflict in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Shias make up nearly 20% of Pakistan's 200-million population.

In recent months Pakistani authorities have issued warnings to mosques to restrict the use of their loudspeakers, which are regulated under a separate law.

There have been widespread reports of clerics having been been temporarily arrested and put under personal bail to ensure they do not use mosques loudspeakers to propagate sectarian messages.

Sectarian attacks continue. Last week 45 Ismaili Shias were massacred on a bus in Karachi.

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