Remembering Pakistan’s Most Vulnerable Blasphemy Victims

By ICC’s Pakistan Correspondent

05/09/2018 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – As the world celebrates the long awaited release of Asia Bibi, it’s important to remember that she is not the only individual to suffer under Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws. In fact, since Sections 295-B and 295-C were added in the late 1980s, more than 1,500 individuals have had their lives forever changed by blasphemy accusations.

Among the most vulnerable to be abuse under the blasphemy laws are Pakistanis suffering from mental health disorders. Under the current interpretation of the law, there is no distinction made between premeditated crimes and unintentional acts. Psychological disorders are often cast aside in the legal process with minors and those found to be clinically disabled being held fully accountable for their actions.

To date, International Christian Concern (ICC) has documented 12 individuals with mental disabilities have been accused of blasphemy in Pakistan. Most of these individuals have endured torture and been beaten due to the crime with which they are accused or convicted. Out of these 12, ICC found that five were Muslims, four were Christians, and the religious backgrounds of three others were unidentifiable.

Below are details of three of the 12 cases identified by ICC:

Muhammad Asghar, an elderly Muslim and citizen of Scotland, was arrested for insulting Islam in Pakistan in 2010 when he reportedly claimed that he was the reincarnated Prophet Muhammad. He is currently on death row. Four months before his arrest, Asghar was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia during treatment he was receiving at Edinburgh’s Royal Victoria Hospital. In September 2014, Muhammad Asghar was attacked by a policeman in Adiala Prison located in Rawalpindi.

Rimsha Masih, a mentally disabled Christian girl, was accused of burning papers containing Quranic verses in August 2012 by a Muslim cleric named Haifiz Muhammad Khalid Chishti. It was later revealed that the accuser planted the burned pages in Rimsha’s backpack to incriminate Rimsha. In November 2012, the Islamabad High Court declared Rimsha innocent; however, she and her family had to flee the country permanently for their safety.

Yaqoob Bashir, a mentally disabled Christian man, was accused of burning a booklet that contained Quranic verses in Mirpurkhas in June 2015. Bashir was reportedly receiving treatment at a mental health facility in Hyderabad prior to this accusation. Since then, Bashir has been attacked and beaten multiple times in prison. In September 2018, the trial court sentenced him to life in prison despite finding that Bashir was mentally disabled. Bashir’s appeal is pending before the Hyderabad High Court.

The nine other cases of mentally disabled individuals accused of blasphemy in Pakistan documented by ICC include:

  1. Ghulam Muhammad, accused of burning a Quran in Jalalpur in February 2003.
  2. Tahir Mehmood, also accused of burning a Quran in Sheikhupura in March 2005.
  3. Samiullah, accused of putting his foot on a copy of the Quran in June 2006.
  4. Tony Naseem, accused of burning a Quran in 2010.
  5. Khanqah Dogran, accused of setting copies of the Quran on fire in a mosque in Sheikhupura in 2011.
  6. An unidentified mentally disabled man arrested in Bahawalpur in July 2012 after he was accused of burning pages of the Quran.
  7. Another unidentified mentally disabled man accused of insulting Islamic personages in the Dadu District of the Sindh province in December 2012.
  8. Hymayun Masih, accused of burning pages of the Quran in May 2015.
  9. Asif Stephen, a mentally disabled Christian youth accused of tearing pages of Islamic literature in Jamkay Chatha in August 2017.

These laws do not say anything about the mentally disabled being alleged for blasphemy,” Shamaoon Qaiser, a former parliamentarian in the Punjab Assembly, explained to ICC. “No amendments have been introduced in the last three decades to make these laws ‘less pious.’ This shows a lack of willingness on behalf of the legislators.

Immediate amendments must be introduced to give relief to the mentally disabled who are currently in prison,” Qaiser concluded.

While it is important to celebrate the monumental victory of Asia Bibi’s release from Pakistan, it is as, if not more, important to keep a watchful eye on those who continue to suffer under Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws. Especially those most vulnerable to the abuse of those laws.

For interviews, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: press@persecution.org

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