Religious-freedom activists feel heightening concerns for Pakistan’s Christian minority. Recent months have shown a sharp upturn in persecution and an increasing numbers of blasphemy cases. Now Christians face another imposition after a ruling by Pakistan’s High Court that all citizens must declare their religion when applying for identity documents.
Pakistan has strict laws against insulting the Prophet Muhammad, and these blasphemy cases can attract the death penalty. Even rumors of blasphemy can trigger mob violence, causing severe injury or death to Christians. Moreover, people frequently file blasphemy charges where there are disputes about matters such as property.
“Persecution is double — if you see the persecution rate after New Year 2018 till now you can see double the number of blasphemy cases,” said Angela Michael, who leads an anti-slavery project in Pakistan supported by Anglican Aid (Sydney).
The most famous blasphemy case in recent years is that of Asia Bibi, sentenced to hang in 2010. She was accused of insulting the prophet of Islam when she drank water from a well in her village and then offered some to a Muslim woman. A crowd gathered, claiming she had polluted the well by drinking from it and demanded she become a Muslim. She was arrested when she refused to convert, and she remains on death row.
Two men who supported her and campaigned against blasphemy laws — the governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, and Minority Affairs Minister, Shahbaz Bhatti — were assassinated in separate incidents.
The most recent high-profile case involves a 21-year-old street sweeper, Patras Masih, who was accused of having shared an allegedly blasphemous image on a Facebook Messenger group, showing a man standing with his foot placed on the dome of a mosque.
After his cousin, 24-year-old Sajid Masih, was called in for investigation, Sajid said investigators tried to force him to sexually assault Patras; he jumped from the fourth floor of the Federal Investigation Agency’s headquarters in Lahore to escape their demands. Friends say he broke almost every bone in his body and remains in critical condition.
Adapted from the Diocese of Sydney