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[vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_custom_heading text=”By ICC’s Pakistan Correspondent” font_container=”tag:h6|text_align:left” use_theme_fonts=”yes” css=”.vc_custom_1524746114971{margin-bottom: 22px !important;}”][vc_single_image image=”99703″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]08/02/2018 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Sections 295 and 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code are commonly referred to as Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. These sections were gradually added to the penal code under the regime of General Ziaul Haq between 1980 and 1986. Since then, thousands of Pakistanis have been victimized by false accusations of blasphemy and the social violence that often follows.

Pakistan’s religious minorities, including Christians, have suffered greatly due to the biased environment created by the notorious blasphemy laws. When a non-Muslim is accused, the trial takes several years and the whole minority community is at risk. In several incidents, entire communities, including their places of worship, have been destroyed by mobs stirred up by radicals following blasphemy accusations against a Christian.

On February 19, a Christian teenager, Patras Masih, was accused of blasphemy in Shahdara, a neighborhood outside of Lahore. Masih was accused of sharing blasphemous content on WhatsApp. This triggered another crisis for the Christian community of Shahdara as mobs gathered outside of Shahdara, threatening to attack. In the end, Patras was surrendered to the police to placate the gathering mobs.

Five months later, Patras’ family is still living in hiding. Even being related to someone accused of blasphemy can be extremely dangerous. Threats are common, but the ostracism facing relatives of blasphemers is equally devastating. International Christian Concern (ICC) managed to meet with the family to discuss the suffering they are facing.

While speaking with ICC, a sense of insecurity loomed in the eyes of Patras’ parents, sister, and brother. “It was like a judgment day for us,” Patras’ mother said. “I was alone at home and almost fainted when [I] heard my son was accused of blasphemy.

I have lost everything except hope for my son to be declared innocent by the court,” Patras’ mother continued. “We have nothing more to lose as we have already lost our house, all our major household articles, dignity of life, relatives, friends, and even the future of our children.

It’s unforgettable, watching my house stuff being looted and damaged,” she recalled. “Almost everything in the house was destroyed by the mob.

We have been ruined,” Patras’ mother continued. “We are living in hiding for almost six months. Patras’ father and brother have lost their jobs following the accusation.

Pointing to Patras’ brother and sister, she said, “They had to quit their schooling and I don’t think they will be able to continue their studies ever again. I am worried that the allegation against one person has damaged [the] future of everyone.”[/vc_column_text][vc_custom_heading text=”“Once blasphemy allegations are leveled against you, you lose everything. There is no security, no job assurance, no family attachment, no social life, no education, no future, no relationship.”” font_container=”tag:h5|text_align:left” use_theme_fonts=”yes” css=”.vc_custom_1533230312413{margin-top: 50px !important;margin-bottom: 60px !important;padding-right: 20px !important;padding-left: 20px !important;}”][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1533229885930{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”]

“This is no safety for our family,” Patras’ mother said. “All the time we are monitored and followed by different groups. We therefore feel insecure and threatened. Who knows what will be the future for us.

This accusation has put us on an island where we have no connection with rest of the world,” Patras’ father added.

Following the accusation against Patras, Sajid Masih, Patras’ cousin, was also arrested. Sajid sustained major injuries after he jumped from the fourth floor of the Federal Investigation Agency building in Lahore shortly after the arrest. According to Sajid, he and his cousin were being severely tortured by interrogators. Prior to jumping, Sajid said that he had been ordered by an officer to have sex with his cousin.

Both of my legs, a shoulder, and jaw got multiple fractures,” Sajid explained as he described his injuries to ICC. “According to the doctors, it could take more than a year to get fully healed and recovered.

Just like Patras’ family, the arrest and association with an accused blasphemer has had a devastating effect on Sajid and his family.

Our house was closed for about five months after I went through this persecution,” Sajid said, still on bed rest as he recovers from the injuries he sustained in February. “When we returned home, we found each and every major article was looted or damaged.

We are still passing through a critical time,” Sajid continued. “For the media and outsiders, it was [a] one-day incident. For us, its everyday suffering.

Sajid and his family still feel the fear of another attack every day. “Whenever the main gate of the house is knocked, we get frightened,” Sajid said. “Often, unknown people come to inquire about me which also makes us fearful.

“We have no security of life and future,” Sajid explained. “We could be killed any day, anytime by a fanatic.

Following the accusation, my fiancée has refused marrying me,” Sajid continued. “Muslim friends hate us and look at us with anger. Our neighbors and relatives do not visit us due to threats of being monitored by fanatics.

“Once blasphemy allegations are leveled against you, you lose everything,” Sajid said. “There is no security, no job assurance, no family attachment, no social life, no education, no future, no relationship.

While Sajid has been released, Patras remains in police custody, accused of blasphemy. It is likely that he will receive a death sentence by the trial court in the near future. The ongoing suffering and rejection facing Patras and Sajid’s families are a common experience shared by all families of those accused of blasphemy. With such devastating consequences, Pakistan must either abolish these laws or take steps to ensure that the laws are not abused and those accused are protected from the social injustices that Patras and Sajid experienced.

For interviews with William Stark, Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: [email protected]