Abuse of Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law Continues to be Widespread
9/4/2014 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that 29 Christian and 2 Muslim men were accused of blasphemy in Chak (village) # 206, Tehsil Samandri, in district Faisalabad on Tuesday, September 2. Local police have registered First Information Report (FIR) # 316/14 against the 31 individuals at Mureedwala police station claiming the individuals violated 295-C, 506-B, 447, 148 and 149 of Pakistan’s Penal Code.
According to reports gathered by ICC sources, the Christians of the area requested that a local politician grant them a piece of land to use as a cemetery. In response, to this request Mr. Ch. Muhammad Iqbal, a Muslim who is also accused in the FIR, allowed the Christians to make use of a specific piece of land for the cemetery.
Dr. Shamaun Bhatti, a local human rights activist, told ICC, “On September 2, 2014, when Christians were busy in manual work and leveling the ground for graves, Mr. Ashiq Hussain Qaiser, a Muslim and the complainant in the FIR, provoked the Muslims clerics to call the “faithful” against [the] Christians for insulting Islam.” Dr. Bhatti went on to explain how Pakistan’s often abused blasphemy laws were then used to level a false charge against the local Christians. “Several announcements were made using amplifiers at the mosques and provoked Muslims against the Christians [claiming they] bulldozed Muslims’ graves which carried Islamic verses and religious symbols,” Dr. Bhatti explained. “Soon the incident turned into a blasphemy allegation (295 – C, PPC) against Christians.”
“For years and years, I have not seen any funeral taking place at this location [or] any grave or a single sign of a graveyard in that particular piece of land,” Mr. Mubarik Masih, age 55 and a resident of the village, told ICC. “The accusing party just took advantage of this law to settle a personal score.”
“There is no question of insulting Islam or the Holy personages in this case,” Ch. Muhammad Iqbal told ICC. “This is just a matter of political jealousy and aggression.”
“This is another example of misusing blasphemy laws to settle personal scores,” Professor Anjum James Paul, director of SHADOW organization, said. “Alleging over two dozen Christians in a false case is sad and requires a depth investigation by the police against culprits. [The] Peace and Reconciliation Committee, which is a body of religious scholars, journalists and human rights activists belonging to Christian and Muslim backgrounds, will resolve the issue peacefully.” Professor Paul urged the authorities to take strict action against those who provoke the Muslims and misused the blasphemy laws for their hidden agenda.
According to Muhammad Iqbal, the Superintendent of Police has made the amendment in the FIR. The police official has replaced the 295-C (blasphemy law) charge with charges under Section 297 of Pakistan’s Penal Code, which is “trespassing on burial places.” There are over 250 Christian families living in the village and many of them have abandoned their houses due to security concerns. Dozens of policemen have been placed in the village to keep control if situation turns into violence. Twenty of the twenty nine Christians accused in the FIR remain under arrest and others are in hiding for safety reasons, according to the local sources.
ICC’s Regional Manager for South Asia, William Stark, said, “This incident involving Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law should clearly highlight the abuse of the law for the international community. Originally written to protect against religious intolerance, the law has warped into a tool used by extremists and others to settle personal scores and persecute Pakistan’s vulnerable religious minorities. In 2013 alone, thirty-six individuals were accused of blasphemy in Pakistan. Of that thirty-six, thirty were religious minorities and twelve of those were Christians. Given that Christians only make up two percent of Pakistan’s population, the fact that one-third of blasphemy accusations made in 2013 were leveled against Christians should be seen as highly disturbing. Beyond being disproportionately accused and convicted of blasphemy, the vast majority of blasphemy accusations brought against Christians are false, like the accusations leveled in this particular incident. Unfortunately, pressure for Islamic radical groups and general discrimination against Christians in Pakistan has transformed trial courts into little more than rubber stamps for blasphemy accusations bought against Christian, regardless of the evidence brought to bear in the case.”