MANSEHRA: A Chinese national working at the Dasu hydropower project was taken into police custody on Monday following unrest, after labourers at the dam site accused him of making blasphemous remarks during a heated argument.
The man was booked on blasphemy charges in Upper Kohistan district and sent to prison on a 14-day judicial remand by an Abbottabad anti-terrorism court on Monday.
“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,” Mohammad Khalid, the district police officer (DPO) in Upper Kohistan, told reporters.
The suspect was later produced before the ATC amid strict security measures. Security personnel remained tightlipped about his place of detention, but the DPO said he was moved to Islamabad onboard a helicopter on Monday evening.
‘Suspect’ sent to jail on 14-day remand; protesters said to be enraged by argument on prayer breaks, block KKH
According to locals, the man had complained to workers at the dam that “precious time” was being lost due to prayer breaks.
This enraged some of the workers and they fanned out to nearby villages, whipping up emotions.
A large frenzied crowd then made its way towards Kamila Bazaar and blocked the Karakoram Highway (KKH), threatening to storm the Dasu Hydropower Project (DHP) site if the Chinese man was not arrested.
A group of elders tried to pacify the crowd, advising them to give the police some time to handle the “delicate matter”.
An FIR of the incident was finally registered at the Kamila police station, Upper Kohistan, under Sections 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code and Section 6/7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act.
The FIR quoted some workers and their interpreters as saying that the suspect had uttered “sacrilegious remarks” when they sought a break to offer prayers.
According to the FIR, police were informed on Sunday night about a mob trying to force their way into a Chinese camp near Barseen. A police party rushed to the place, cordoned off the area and shifted the suspect to Kamila police station.
As word about the episode spread, labourers at the Dasu dam site stopped their work.
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 called upon agitators not to take the law into their hands as police and the district administration were “handling the matter admirably”.
Anwarul Haq, general manager at the project, said the situation on the ground was normal, but the protest had led to a suspension of work.
Attempts to get in touch with the Chinese side to obtain their version were unsuccessful.
The Dasu dam site was in the news earlier this month when a fire broke out at a warehouse and residential camps of Chinese engineers on April 4.
The fire, put down to short-circuit by officials, ripped through the residential zone, but there was no loss of life.
Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2023