A teenage Pakistani Christian girl has been accused of blasphemy after she accidentally misspelled a word in a poem about the Muslim prophet Muhammad during an examination.
The eighth grader, Faryal Bhatti, who attends a girls' high school in the Pakistan Ordnance Factories colony at Havelian, near Abbottabad, misspelled the word 'naat' (hymn) as 'laanat' (curse) when answering a question about a poem written in praise of Muhammad. The two words, written in Urdu, differ only with a coma and are, according to commentators, easy to confuse, especially for a young person.
The exam took place Thursday, Sept. 22. The teacher noticed the mistake while collecting the papers and beat Faryal as punishment, according to The Express Tribune, a Pakistani news outlet.
However, after the girl’s classmates learned of the affair, the teacher brought the matter to the notice of the principal, who informed the school's management.
Friday, male students of the school and some religious leaders reportedly organized a rally demanding that Faryal be formally accused of blasphemy. The case caused an uproar among the local religious community, the Tribune reports.
On that same day, prayer leaders reportedly condemned the incident in their sermons, asking the colony’s administration to not only take action against Faryal but her entire family.
The girl and her mother appeared before a school commission to explain that the error was nothing more but an honest mistake.
Saturday, school administration and local religious leaders reportedly decided that the "mistake" was serious enough to charge Faryal with blasphemy and expel her from the school.
The Tribune reports that Faryal's mother was punished as well, and was transferred from POF Hospital Havelian, where she has worked as nurse for several years, and relocated to POF Wah Cantonment Hospital.
Jonathan Racho, the Regional Manager for South Asia at the International Christian Concern (ICC), an advocacy group, told The Christian Post that the blasphemy law is one of the most controversial laws in Pakistan, and that it is often used for persecuting religious minorities.
Blasphemy against the the prophet Muhammad can even result in a death sentence, while offending the Quran can be punished with a lifetime prison sentence.