Pakistani police arrest mother of four on blasphemy charges

LAHORE, Pakistan (AFP) - The Pakistani police have arrested a mother of four on blasphemy charges after she allegedly called herself a prophet of Islam, the police and a cleric said on Tuesday.

The woman was arrested in the eastern city of Lahore, capital of Punjab province, where a serving governor was shot dead in 2011 for wanting to reform the blasphemy law.

"Police arrested a 40-year-old woman, Salma alias Fatima, on Monday and sent her to prison on blasphemy charges," senior police official Tariq Aziz told AFP.

Mr Aziz said local cleric Qari Iftikhar Ahmed Raza had accused the woman of distributing a pamphlet carrying "contemptuous" remarks.

"There is no direct claim of prophethood in the pamphlet, however, the complainant accuses her of it," Mr Aziz said.

Muslims believe that Prophet Mohammed was the last messenger of God.

Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan, where 97 per cent of the population is Muslim, and insulting Prophet Mohammed can be punished by death under the country's penal code.

Even unproven allegations can provoke a violent public response, and critics say the law is often used to settle personal scores.

According to the police, the cleric and the woman appeared to have argued over the distribution of food provided by charity in their area.

Mr Raza, the cleric, told AFP that Salma had been criticising the local clerics and they had urged her to stop but she refused.

He added that she distributed the pamphlet containing the alleged blasphemy on Monday, after which he and other imams called the police.

"She has claimed to be a prophet and deserves the death penality under Pakistani law," Mr Raza said, adding that the woman was mentally fit and taught mathematics to schoolchildren.

Residents in the area said that Salma's family had fled from their home and told AFP that she became deeply religious after going on a pilgrimage to Mecca three years ago.

The mother of four is also a principal of a private school according to the police, who have requested she undergo a psychological examination.

Rimsha Masih, a Christian girl who was arrested for alleged blasphemy last year, fled to Canada with her family in June after the charges were dropped.

In 2011, Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer and minorities' Cabinet minister Shahbaz Bhatti were assassinated for demanding that the blasphemy law be reformed.

Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, remains in prison after being sentenced to death in November 2010 after another women claimed she had made derogatory remarks towards Prophet Mohammed.