02/26/2018 Washington D.C.
(International Christian Concern
) – International Christian Concern (ICC) learned that six Christians from Elahiabad, a town located near Faisalabad, were charged with committing blasphemy on Friday, February 23. Following the blasphemy accusations, a majority of the Christians from the neighborhood fled, fearing mob violence.
According to First Information Report (FIR) #238/18, Fayaz Masih, Riaz Masih, Imtiaz Masih, Sarfraz Masih, Saqib Masih and Mrs. Riaz were accused of insulting a “Na’at,” a form of Islamic poetry praising the Prophet Muhammad. Munawar Shehzad, the local Muslim who registered the accusation, further accused the six Christians of preventing him from painting a wall with the “Kalma Tayabba,” the Islamic proclamation of Muhammad as the final prophet.
According to Pervaiz Hayat, a local human rights defender, the accusations against the Christians are false and highlight the widespread abuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
“It was actually an issue over kite flying which was purposely turned into a religious dispute,” Hayat told ICC. “Earlier, Christian and Muslim children got into a fight over catching a kite in the street which later involved the elders of the two communities.“
“To teach the Christians a lesson, the Muslims of the area damaged Bible verses which were painted on the outside wall of the Khushkhabri Church,” Hayat continued. “Muslims wanted to paint a name of an Islamic political party over the verses, but the Christians reacted to it and the issue turned into a religious dispute.“
Police have booked the six Christians under 295-A of the Pakistan Penal Code, which punishes acts that hurt or insult religious beliefs. If found guilty, the six Christians could face up to 10 years in prison. Currently, only two out of the six accused are in police custody.
Since the blasphemy accusation was made, members of the Christian community of Elahiabad have fled their homes, fearing potential mob violence. In response, police have been deployed to the neighborhood to keep matters under control.
William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager, said, “Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws continue to be used as a weapon in the hands of extremists seeking to incite religious hatred. As is evident in this case, the laws continue to be abused to settle personal scores, often to the detriment of minority communities. Over the past 30 years, more than 1,500 individuals have been accused of blasphemy in Pakistan. Religious minorities, including Christians, make up the majority of these accusations despite the fact that minorities only make up 3.6% of Pakistan’s total population. Reforms are needed to ensure that this pattern of abuse ends. Until then, false blasphemy accusations will continue to be a deadly weapon for extremists.“