Blasphemy Law Wielded against Christian in Pakistan

Locked door of one of the households that fled Christian Colony in Okara District, Pakistan after blasphemy accusation on June 23, 2024. (CDI-MSN)

Locked door of one of the households that fled Christian Colony in Okara District, Pakistan after blasphemy accusation on June 23, 2024. (CDI-MSN)

LAHORE, Pakistan (Christian Daily InternationalMorning Star News) – Police in Pakistan on Sunday (June 23) arrested a Christian under blasphemy laws as part of his siblings’ effort to retaliate against him over a property dispute, sources said.

The arrest came the same day a key government minister admitted on the floor of the National Assembly that the state has failed to protect religious minorities in Pakistan against false blasphemy accusations.

Officers from the Okara A-Division Police Station arrested Chand Shamaun, 26, from his home in Christian Colony in Okara District, Punjab Province, in response to a dispute he had with his siblings over his share in their ancestral house the previous night, said area Christian leader Younis Chauhan.

Chauhan said that he was present with other Christians when Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Mehr Yousaf arrived with other officers.

“The police asked us if we knew anything about a Quran desecration incident in the colony,” Chauhan told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News. “When we told them that no such incident had occurred, DSP Yousaf told me to take them to Chand Shamaun’s house. On reaching the place, the police arrested Chand’s elder brother Zeeshan Shamaun, who was sleeping at the time.”

Chand Shamaun arrived and he was also taken into custody, he said.

Chauhan said that when area residents asked police why they were arresting the two brothers, Yousaf said they had received information that Chand Shamaun had desecrated the Quran.

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“We told the police that though the siblings often quarreled over their share in property, no blasphemy had been committed,” Chauhan said. “The DSP assured us that the brothers would be prosecuted under sections 147 and 151 of the Pakistan Penal Code for disturbing public peace, and they could obtain bail from the court on Monday.”

A few hours later, however, they were surprised when eight to 10 police vehicles arrived and cordoned off the streets leading to Chand Shamaun’s house, he said.

“It was then we came to know that police had registered a First Information Report [FIR] against Chand under Section 295-A [of Pakistan’s blasphemy statutes] and Section 9 of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) 1997,” he said.

Section 295-A prescribes imprisonment of up to 10 years for “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.” Section 9 of the ATA 1997 relates to “acts intended or likely to stir up sectarian hatred” and is punishable with imprisonment of up to seven years.

Chauhan said that several Christian families upon seeing the police deployment locked their homes and left the colony, fearing that the blasphemy allegation could provoke violent protests by Islamist groups.

“Fortunately, there were no protests in the city, and residents have started returning to their homes,” he said.

Chand Shamaun works as an ambulance driver and has two minor children, he said. His brother Zeeshan was still in police custody at this writing. Their family members could not be reached for comment.

Abraham Daniel, bishop of the Baptist Church in Sahiwal, criticized police for registering a false FIR against the Christian.

“The FIR registered on the complaint of a police Sub-Inspector Haider Ali states that he and five other policemen were standing outside the District Headquarters Hospital Okara when Chand Shamaun came there and started shouting that he would burn the Quran because of his differences with Zeeshan and his sister Zunaira, who had converted to Islam some time ago,” Daniel told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News.

According to Ali, when the police tried to arrest Chand Shamaun, he fled on foot to Christian Colony, he said.

“I believe that the allegation brought against Chand is based on police mala fide,” Daniel said. “They turned a family dispute into a religious incident when in fact no blasphemy had been committed.”

He said he regretted that blasphemy laws were being blatantly misused against Christians in Pakistan.

“False blasphemy allegations and cases have become a norm here,” he said. “The situation has reached the point where entire neighborhoods are abandoned merely on the basis of accusation. The case against Chand is a cause of concern because the complainant is not a private individual but a police officer who apparently concocted the incident.”

‘Minorities Unsafe’

Also on Sunday, Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif said in an address to a special session of the National Assembly that he regretted surging incidents of mob violence against religious minorities in Pakistan.

“Minorities are being murdered daily,” Asif said. “No religious minority is safe in Pakistan. Even the smaller sects of the Muslims are not safe.”

The minister said treasury members wanted to bring a resolution in the House in support of the religious minorities.

“Our Constitution provides protection to the minorities, but practically we are seeing them being murdered in Swat, Sargodha and Faisalabad,” he said. “This is a matter of concern and embarrassment [for the nation].”

One June 20 a mob in the Madyan police station in Swat District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province lynched a Muslim resident of Sialkot. Police had detained Muhammad Suleman for alleged desecration of the Quran. The mob not only killed him but set his body on fire, along with the police station and an official vehicle.

On May 25, a frenzied Muslim mob, including women and children beat a 74-year-old Christian, Nazeer Masih Gill, with stones and sticks after a local rival accused him of burning pages of the Quran. The mob also set fire to Gill’s shoe factory and house. He underwent two head surgeries but succumbed to his wounds nine days later, on June 3.

Blasphemy charges were not proven against any of those people, Asif told the House.

“We must ensure the safety of our minority brothers and sisters,” he said. “They have as much right to live in this country as the majority. Pakistan belongs to all Pakistanis, regardless of whether they are Muslim, Christian, Sikh, or of any other faith. Our Constitution guarantees full protection to minorities.”

Federal Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar later read a resolution emphasizing that “the right to life is the most cherished right enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan.”

“This House takes serious notice of the recent mob lynching of our citizens accused of offenses in Swat and Sargodha,” Tarar read. “It is noted that such incidents have recently increased in different parts of the country.”

The resolution further urged the federal and provincial governments “to ensure the safety and security of all citizens, including religious minorities and other vulnerable segments of society.”

The National Assembly thus specifically called for “the provincial governments of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab to take immediate and necessary measures to identify, investigate and prosecute those involved in these incidents under the relevant laws.”

“Furthermore, the House expressed the expectation that the courts would ensure immediate and speedy justice in these cases, underscoring the need for swift legal action to prevent future occurrences of such tragic events,” the resolution concluded.

Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2024 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, as it was the previous year.

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