Ali Hasnain, one of our newest members of Holy Trinity church and a student of Journalism at Roehampton University – writes an impassioned plea for non-Muslims living in Pakistan, who are daily having to live with the fear of potentially being accused of blasphemy.
Pakistan, a country, which attained its freedom on the thoughts of equality, is now caught up in a stranglehold of fear and radical clerics.
Religious minorities in Pakistan have to cope daily with the fear of being accused of Blasphemy: a deadly law where the judgment and penalty, instead of happening inside a courtroom, could be decided by a mob on the streets.
Just one accusation, regardless of whether it is true or false, can lead to extremely deadly consequences. Anybody accused of blasphemy could be killed, his family have to endure torture, his house could set on fire, or even other unimaginably cruel consequences.
The blasphemy law was created to protect the dignity of Islam and its Prophet and includes section 295 (A), 295(B) and 295(C) of the Constitution of Pakistan. These offences are non-bailable in Pakistan’s law, and punishment is nothing else than death.
Ironically, in many cases the blasphemy law has been used either as a tool for enacting personal grievance or plain hatred and bigotry. The following are some examples of blasphemy allegations proven wrong under investigation, but the consequences faced by those accused were profoundly serious.
1992 – Naimat Ahmer, a Christian schoolteacher was stabbed seventeen times in the school by one of his students, Farooq Ahmed (20-year-old). Naimat was accused of committing derogatory words against Islam.
Because Naimat had refused a transfer to different school, another Muslim teacher wanted his position. For this, Naimat’s fellow teachers accused him of blasphemy through wall-chalking illustrating that Christian teacher insulted the Prophet of Islam. Not only this, but they also encouraged Farooq to kill his teacher.
1994 – Manzoor Masih was accused of blasphemy but later acquitted in court, was publicly shot dead in Lahore (city of Pakistan).
Despite the fact that Manzoor was illiterate, he was arrested and accused of writing blasphemous phrases on the wall and distributing flyers. The actual quarrel was over some pigeons.
2004 – Samuel Masih, 27 was accused of blasphemy. Whilst he was undergoing treatment in hospital a Policeman, Faryad Ali, who was meant to protect him, killed him by hitting him on head with a brick cutter.
2008 – A Hindu man, Jagdish Kumar, was beaten to death in a leather factory in Karachi where he used to work as a laborer. Kumar was publicly accused of blasphemy and beaten to death by his co-workers When police arrived, they found his body was being burned.
2014 – Christian couple Sajjad Masih (27) and Shama Bibi (24) were burnt alive in a brick kiln where they used to work as labourers after being accused of burning pages from a Quran (Holy book of Muslims). Shama was 4-month-pregnant but the allegation was never proved true.
2017- Sonu Arshad, an 18-year-old Christian boy was accused of publishing disrespectful posts on Facebook. Later it was discovered the Facebook page was fake, but many Christian families were forced to flee from the town, due to the number of threats to them.
2013- Francis and Joseph Colony, a Christian area in Pakistan, had more than 250 houses burned down, just for an accusation of blasphemy. The allegation was never proved.
Pakistani Non-Muslim believers including Christians, Hindus, Ahmedis and other sects face much more horrifc incidents. Their homes, businesses and even places of worship have been vandalised. No one knows when this, or even worse will happen next.
According to the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) human rights organisation 505 Ahmedis, 229 Christians, 30 Hindus and 11 other non- moslem believers have been accused of blasphemy charges since 1987-2018.
If someone is suspected of blasphemy they will be placed in protection from Islamic extremists before the case goes to court but still has to face many obstacles to justice.
He cannot hire a non-Muslim lawyer, and the judge must be a Muslim. Many Muslim lawyers and judges are often reluctant to take or hear the case, fearing the fearing retribution in the aftermath. The judge who he acquitted Salamat Masih of blasphemy, based on weak evidences against him, was assassinated afterwards.
After managing to overcome unfair circumstances, a person freed after being accused of blasphemy soon finds out his acquittal means nothing. He will face threats from extremist Islamic fundamentalists and soon he will have to leave the country to seek protection – depending on his financial capabilities.
Despite strong pressure, legislators are reluctant to establish equal punishments for those who falsely accuse someone of committing blasphemy because of pressure from religious extremist groups.
It seems that religious minorities in Pakistan are the most vulnerable members of society. Just one accusation can ruin their lives. Pakistani non-Muslims are seeking help from other non-Islamic countries and it is vital to save them before it is too late.
Author is a Journalism student at University of Roehampton, London and has worked as a professional journalist in pakistan-based news organisations. He can be contacted through his email [email protected]