LAHORE: Two Christian nurses have been booked under blasphemy charges in Pakistan's Punjab province following a complaint by hospital authorities, police said, as people staged demonstrations against the duo demanding strict action against them.
According to police, an FIR has been registered against the two nurses, Mariyum Lal and Newish Arooj, working in District Headquarters (DHQ) Hospital, Faisalabad, on Friday on the complaint filed by Deputy Medical Superintendent Dr Mohammad Ali.
The nurses are accused of removing the stickers inscribed with Islamic verses from the wall of a hospital ward where psychiatric patients are being treated.
Deputy Medical Superintendent Ali claimed that blasphemy charges have been proved against the two nurses by the hospital committee which probed the matter.
He said the "removed sticker inscribed with Islamic verses" is in the possession of the head nurse of the hospital.
Hospital employees staged a demonstration against the two nurses and demanded strict action against them.
Local Muslim clerics also joined the protesters.
In Pakistan, false accusations of blasphemy are widespread and often motivated by personal vendettas or religious hatred.
Accusations are highly inflammatory and have the potential to spark mob lynching.
Some of the protesters also attacked the police van parked inside the hospital to get the custody of one of the nurses but the police locked her inside the vehicle to keep her safe from the mob.
According to a police official, anti-riot police and Elite Force were called in to handle the situation.
"As the mob had surrounded the police van demanding handing over the nurse to them, more force was called in to push back the protesters.
After managing to disperse the mob by using a water cannon, police succeeded in moving the nurse from the hospital premises," the official said, adding the other nurse had already managed to leave the hospital.
Reacting to the development, the International Christian Concern (ICC) said both the Christian nurses have falsely been accused of committing blasphemy.
It alleged that the head nurse, Rukhsana, had a grudge against Mariyum Lal and she provoked other Muslim staffers of the hospital, claiming she desecrated wall hangings and a sticker that contained Quranic verses.
"In response, a Muslim staffer, Waqas, attacked Ms Lal with a knife as she was attending a patient in the hospital's medical ward. She received several injuries to her arm but survived the attack," it alleged.
Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws and their prescribed punishments are considered extremely severe.
People accused of blasphemy are usually deprived of the right to a counsel of their choice as most lawyers refuse to take up such sensitive cases.
The blasphemy laws are colonial-era legislation but they were amended by former dictator General Ziaul Haq which increased the severity of prescribed punishments.