Charges of blasphemy made against two Christians is another example of growing intolerance against religious minorities in Pakistan, a rights group has claimed.
In a statement rights group CLAAS-UK said that two young Christians in the city of Lahore where charged mid-last month under the country’s controversial blasphemy laws. The statement said that police registered a blasphemy case against Christians, Haroon Ayub Masih and Salamat Mansha Masih on Feb. 13.
The blasphemy case is under section 295-A, B and C of the Pakistan Penal Code which carries a mandatory death penalty, the group said.
Police have since reportedly arrested Mansha while Ayub escaped, and his family has gone into hiding.
CLAAS-UK said that the complainant Haroon Ahmad alleged in his statement that while he was with friends in a park the two Christians approached and introduced themselves and handed over a copy of a Christian booklet “Water of Life.” The two Christians then allegedly began to evangelize.
The statement said that Ahmad claimed the pair of Christians stated that the prophet Muhammad had strayed on the path of religion while Christ had never married and continued His preaching while their prophet had got married to extend his line.
CLAAS-UK said that Ahmad further told police that the Christians further claimed the Bible is the true book while the Holy Quran is not a true book. The rights group further said that Ahmad declared that the Christians’ words were “acts of terrorism” and they were “intentionally committing a blasphemy”.
Nasir Saeed, director of the group, said Pakistan is still a democratic state where everyone has the right to preach and propagate their religion.
“This is not a right that only the majority religion has,” Saeed said. “Pakistan has signed international conventions on religious freedom and freedom of speech, therefore Pakistan must respect them.”
Saeed added this is the second blasphemy case of the year.
“Last month a Christian staff nurse and gospel singer was charged under the blasphemy law, while according to her she has not committed blasphemy, but she was falsely implicated in the case by her Muslim colleagues because she used to tell them to do their duty honestly and not bother patients for money,” Saeed said. “She used to offer prayers and respects all religions, including Islam.”
Saeed was referring to the case of 42-year-old Tabitha Nazir Gill, a nurse at the Sobhraj Maternity Hospital in Karachi who was beaten after being accused of blasphemy. Video of hospital staff beating Gill later surfaced on social media.
“Unfortunately, Pakistani society has been torn apart by intolerance and violence, a far cry from the original ideal of a tolerant country,” Saeed said.
“Religious minorities are increasingly the targets of bigotry, which is often instigated by extremist forces, Islamic political parties and their leadership.”
Currently, 24 Christians are imprisoned on blasphemy charges in Pakistan.
One of the most well-known past cases was that of Asia Bibi, a Catholic woman who spent eight years on death row over a false blasphemy conviction. In October 2018 Bibi was acquitted and she now lives abroad.
Christians make up 1.6 percent of Pakistan’s total population of 216 million.