Family Forced into Hiding Due to Threats from Extremists
08/10/2021 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that a Christian woman in Pakistan has been arrested for allegedly violating the country’s notorious blasphemy laws after she received a text message on WhatsApp. Following the arrest, the Christian woman’s family fled into hiding due to death threats from religious extremists.
On July 29, Shagufta Rafiq was accused of committing blasphemy and arrested in an armed police raid on her home in Islamabad. Shagufta was charged under 295-A and 295-B of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and could face life in prison if convicted.
“It was July 29 when dozens of policemen and members of law enforcement agencies forcibly entered our house,” Rafiq Masih, Shagufta’s husband, told ICC. “They harassed my family and took possession of our phones, laptops, and other valuables. The police were fully loaded with guns and ordered us not to move and keep our hands up. They arrested Shagufta, my two sons, and my daughter without any prior information or arrest warrants.”
According to Rafiq, Shagufta was arrested because she is a member of a WhatsApp group chat where someone shared an allegedly blasphemous post. Shagufta was accused of committing blasphemy against Islam despite not being the author of the post in question.
“Shagufta was unaware of the post, but has been accused of forwarding it,” Masih explained. “Shagufta has denied this allegation.”
Following the raid on the family home, Shagufta’s children were released from police custody. However, Shagufta was kept and charged with committing blasphemy.
“Due to threats, my family has moved to another city without any of our valuables or households,” Masih told ICC. “The fanatics in the neighborhood did not allow us to take anything from our house with us.”
In Pakistan, false accusations of blasphemy are widespread and often motivated by personal vendettas or religious hatred. Accusations are highly inflammatory and have the potential to spark mob lynchings, vigilante murders, and mass protests.
Since Pakistan added Section 295-B and 295-C to the country’s blasphemy laws in 1987, the number of blasphemy accusations has skyrocketed. Between 1987 and 2017, 1,534 individuals in Pakistan were accused of blasphemy. Out of that 1,534, 829 accusations (54%) were made against religious minorities. With Christians only making up 1.6% of Pakistan’s total population, the 238 accusations (15.5%) made against Christians are highly disproportionate.
ICC’s Regional Manager for South Asia, William Stark, said, “We here at International Christian Concern are very concerned by Shagufta’s arrest and the blasphemy allegation that has been leveled against her. No one should face the prospect of life imprisonment for simply receiving a text message on WhatsApp. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws must not be allowed to be misused in this case. Too often these laws have been a tool in the hands of extremists seeking to stir up religiously motivated violence against minority communities in Pakistan.”