'Like Chickens in Cages Ready to Be Slaughtered'
Sun, January 8, 2017
Pakistani supporters of convicted murderer Mumtaz Qadri protest the governments decision to hang him for the murder of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province who was a proponent of changing Pakistan's archaic blasphemy laws. (Photo: AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)
While Western countries send millions of dollars every year for the development of Pakistan, they are unwilling to ask the Pakistani government to repeal their archaic blasphemy laws.
Meanwhile, minorities in Pakistan are like “chickens in cages” always ready to be slaughtered.
Riaz Anjum, a renowned Christian Pakistani lawyer and chairman of the Pakistan Christian Movement shared a fresh and unfortunate blasphemy case, which was registered at the police station in Nishtar Town, Lahore.
According to the report, five Muslims, all residents of Kamahan village, were going to their mosque for morning prayers at around 6 a.m. when they found a bundle of vandalized Quranic pages.
The name of local Christian preacher Babu Shahbaz Masih appeared on several pages, written in blue ink. Based on this “evidence,” a First Investigation Report (FIR) was registered by the police against him and other “unknown” people.
The term “unknown” used when registering criminal cases is very common in Pakistan because it allows the police or those making the accusations to accuse as many people as they see fit.
Particularly because the police are susceptible to corruption and bribery, oftentimes people use criminal charges to settle personal vendettas.
In this case, those accused who are “unknown” could encompass the entire Christian community. Babu Shabaz’s lawyer Anjum said, “The case is based on false allegations without any admissible evidence, yet local Christians are being threatened and may have to flee the area.
“There are no witnesses against Babu Shahbaz,” he noted, adding that even the local police who are investigating the case are somewhat convinced that Babu Shabaz is being framed.
One of Babu Shahbaz’ brothers, George Masih, said a number of months ago, local Muslims wanted to use church land to build a water-treatment plant, a request the Christians refused.
Since then, Muhammad Nadeem, one of the complainants, along with other Muslims, expressed their dissatisfaction.
“The Muslims used the blasphemy law because we did not accept their demand to allocate a piece of land from the church property for a sewerage pump,” said another Christian resident of the village who requested anonymity. “Babu Shahbaz is illiterate -- unable to read and write. With God’s help he prays for the sick and ailing. How he could desecrate the Quran? This is a planted story.”
Nevertheless, the case was registered under section 295/B of the Pakistan Penal Code which reads, “Whoever willfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Qur'an or of an extract therefrom or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment for life.”
Although Anjum is hopeful the case will be dropped, he also knows that in Pakistan, “A blasphemy case can be contested in courts but not on the streets.”
Normally in these cases, the entire community suffers. All Christians are compelled to flee the area, temporarily or permanently.
In this case, many Christians have already moved to safe houses out of the village.
Stories like this are rarely reported by the Pakistani media due to their reluctance to call attention to blasphemy cases. Only through reports published by international news outlets and social media is the world aware of the atrocities resulting from these discriminatory laws.
Kaleem Dean is human rights activist and journalist from Pakistan. He currently lives in the UK. He was the publisher of Christian Monitor in Pakistan, a leading Christian newspaper which covers minority issues. He presently writes for various Pakistani papers. Write to him at [email protected]