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ICC Note: A Christian family has been forced into hiding after a teenage member of the family was accused and arrested under Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws last week. Shahzad Masih, age 16, was accused of committing blasphemy which can carry a death sentence in Pakistan. Threats against those accused of blasphemy and their family are common, especially when the accused are from a religious minority community. Will Pakistani authorities be able to protect Masih and his family? 

07/20/2017 Pakistan (Vatican Radio) – A Christian teenager was arrested last week by police in Pakistan on allegedly blasphemy charges.  Shahzad Masih, 16, who worked as a sweeper at the Shahmim Riaz hospital in Dinga city in Punjab Province’s Gujrat district, was accused of insulting the prophet Muhammad by a member of Tehreek-e-Tuhafaz, an Islamist extremist party.  Since his arrest on July 14, his family has not been able to see him and police have denied holding the boy.

Shahzad’s family explained that last month the boy had an argument on religious issues with his accuser, Ishtiaq Qadri but a hospital physician, Dr. Tariq brought the situation under control.  On 13 July, Qadri ‎again provoked Shahzad, and accused him of insulting Mohammed.

“I have raised Shahzad as a devout Christian. I have never taught my son to hate people of other religions,” Shahzad’s mother said rejecting the accusation. “This is why I’m sure the charges against him are false.”

After his arrest, the boy’s family was forced to flee the city of 80,000, home to about 150 Christians, after death threats were made at a nearby mosque. On social media, the young man’s picture began circulating with the word “laanat” (shame).  Speaking on behalf of the Islamist group, imam Gazi Saqib Shakeel said that “the judicial system should inflict the worst possible punishment on Shahzad Masih so that no one will dare commit blasphemy again ever.”

Insulting the Prophet Muhammad in Pakistan is a crime punishable with death, while offending the Holy Koran incurs life imprisonment. The blasphemy laws remain an extremely sensitive issue in predominantly Muslim nation and they have ‎drawn intense criticism even within the country.  Rights organizations say the law is often misused to settle personal scores.