Students of Farooqi Girls' High School wave placards as they stage a protest in Lahore on November 3, 2012, demanding the reopening of their school that was set fire by an angry mob, who alleged the school gave a test that insulted the Holy Prophet (PBUH).—AFP Photo

LAHORE: A Pakistani court on Saturday refused bail to the headmaster of a school caught in a blasphemy row over a piece of homework allegedly containing derogatory references to the Holy Prophet (PBUH).

Asim Farooqi, 77, was remanded in custody for 14 days on charges of blasphemy – which can attract the death penalty in Pakistan – despite arguing he had no direct part in the case.

One of his teachers, Arfa Iftikhar, went into hiding after a furious mob stormed Farooqi Girls’ High School in the eastern city of Lahore over a piece of homework she set.

Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan, where allegations of insulting Islam or the Holy Prophet (PBUH) can prompt violent outbursts of public anger.

“The bail petition is dismissed,” Judge Anjum Raza announced after hearing arguments from Farooqi’s lawyer.

The lawyer, Jawad Ashraf, had asked for bail on the grounds the headmaster had no role in the incident.

“The principal of the school can only be held responsible for negligence and has no direct role in the blasphemy incident, he should be released,” he told the court.

About 10 clerics from local mosques gathered at the court to oppose the headmaster’s release.

But at the same time around 2,000 students, parents and teachers gathered at the school to demand its reopening, carrying placards and chanting slogans which included: “Release our principal.”

The school management on Friday took out front page adverts in two leading newspapers to deny any knowledge of the supposed insults, saying Iftikhar distributed the work just 10 minutes before the school closed for the Eid al-Adha holiday.

Activists say Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are often abused to settle personal scores, and Ashraf said the possibility of a conspiracy against the school could not be ruled out.

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