Spate of False Blasphemy Charges Put Pakistani Christians at Risk


Pakistan: In the aftermath of the horrific assault on Christians in Jaranwala, a disturbing series of false blasphemy cases have emerged in Pakistan, casting a harsh light on the rampant abuse of blasphemy laws and the ensuing violence against minority communities. On August 25, 2023, a troubling incident unfolded in Kasur's Mochipura area, where a sanitation worker's family was falsely accused of desecrating Quranic papers while cleaning a Muslim household. Tensions escalated as Islamic clerics called for attacks on Christian homes through mosque loudspeakers. Thankfully, swift police intervention averted a potential catastrophe, ensuring the safety of the Christian community.

 These events follow a grim pattern. On August 16, 2023, Jaranwala city witnessed a violent rampage by a Muslim mob, resulting in the burning of 25 churches and the destruction of 120 houses, leaving numerous Christian families homeless and terrified. This attack, triggered by the arrest of Christian brothers Raja Amir Saleem and Rocky Saleem on blasphemy charges, starkly highlights the alarming misuse of blasphemy laws. Similarly, tensions flared in Sahiwal due to blasphemous content on social media, prompting police action and the filing of a First Information Report (FIR).

 Merely three days after the Jaranwala incident, another potential blasphemy crisis was narrowly averted in Sahiwal. In the village of 186/9-L, a Christian named Ehsaan Shan Masih posted a video containing blasphemous images on social media, reminiscent of the material that triggered the Jaranwala attacks. The local Dera Rahim police station acted swiftly, registering an FIR under sections 295A and B of the Pakistan Penal Code, along with provisions under the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997, to prevent potential violence. While Ehsaan has not been arrested yet, his relatives and neighbours have fled their homes, fearing the dire consequences witnessed in Jaranwala.

 Additionally, in Madina Town, Faisalabad, damp Quranic pages left on a shared wall sparked accusations against a Christian family, forcing some members to flee their homes out of fear of mob violence. A family dispute in Rawalpindi escalated into a blasphemy case when a family member converted to Islam and accused his nephew to claim property shares. Though the police managed to diffuse the situation, rumours persisted, continuing to threaten local Christians.

 In another case, an FIR was registered on August 20, 2023, at the Garanna police station, Sargodha, against unidentified individuals who allegedly desecrated pages of the Holy Quran. Irfan Taj, a resident of Chak No. 36, Sargodha, reported that during Fajar Namaz (Early Morning Prayer) at Bilal Mosque, he discovered a polythene bag hanging on the mosque's main gate containing burnt pages of Sapara No. 2 (Quranic verses). Police have filed a case against unknown perpetrators.

 Reports from our partners in Pakistan also indicate continued harassment of Christians across the country. Incidents include the writing of Quranic/Islamic words on two churches: Central Brooks Church in Karachi and Presbyterian Church on Satyana Road, Faisalabad.

 Recent developments reveal that an Islamic group protested derogatorily against Christians in Mehboob Colony, Faisalabad, on the night of August 29. Chanting offensive slogans and labelling Christians as "Choohras" (a pejorative term often used against Christians) and infidels, the group was dispersed by timely police intervention. However, Christians are still apprehensive, seeking refuge until normalcy is restored.

 Nasir Saeed, Director of CLAAS-UK, expressed deep concern over the ongoing situation against Christians in Pakistan. He commended the State's efforts following the Jaranwala attacks but emphasized that such incidents persist with slightly less intensity, warranting serious attention and action. Due to the ongoing incidents, the Christian community across Pakistan now lives under constant fear, aware that baseless blasphemy allegations within their community could lead to revenge-driven attacks.

 The government must treat this matter with utmost seriousness, possibly deploying law enforcement personnel in Jaranwala and its surrounding areas to restore calm. The lasting trauma inflicted on these communities necessitates swift governmental support and comprehensive reforms to address this issue.

 Pakistan's contentious blasphemy laws contradict the numerous international human rights conventions ratified by the government. The international community consistently voices its concerns, and civil society has once again found its voice, demanding immediate attention to this grave issue. However, despite these disastrous attacks tarnishing Pakistan's global image, the government has failed to promise change or new legislation to combat the misuse of blasphemy laws, especially against Christians.

 The current scenario demands the Pakistani government's unequivocal commitment to curbing the ongoing misuse of blasphemy laws against Christians and other religious minorities. Urgent, proactive measures are required to prevent further harassment and violence against the Christian community. Addressing these concerns will reaffirm Pakistan's dedication to protecting minority rights and ensuring their safety.

 Pakistan's track record of mistreating religious minorities is well known, and denial by government ministers and politicians fails to improve the situation. The Jaranwala attack has brought to the forefront Pakistan's treatment of minorities and can no longer remain concealed from the world's attention. Urgent action is imperative to halt the ongoing plight of Christians, and the government must actively promote harmony within society. Immediate attention to the reform of blasphemy laws is essential for fostering inclusivity and respect among diverse religious communities.

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