Human rights groups have voiced their concerns over what they say are false blasphemy accusations made against two Christian nurses in Pakistan.
Two Christian nurses — Mariyum Lal and Newsh Arooj — were accused on April 9 of committing blasphemy against Islam at the Civil Hospital in Faisalabad where they work on.
Rights group International Christian Concern (ICC) condemned what they described as the “false blasphemy accusation” in a statement released on April 11.
“We call on Pakistani authorities to thoroughly and fairly investigate this false allegation and bring the false accuser to justice,” said William Stark, regional head of ICC.
ICC said that the charges are based on the allegation that the nurses removed a wall hanging with words from the Koran on it.
The rights group said that the nurses were instructed to take wall hangings and stickers off hospital walls by a senior staff member who held a grudge against one of the nurses who then incited other staff against the nurses after the wall hanging was removed.
The allegations spread outside the workplace resulting in a protest outside the hospital by angry Muslims who called for the arrest and hanging of the accused.
One of the nurses, Mariyum Lal, was attacked and injured by a hospital employee armed with a knife over the accusation.
Police registered a First Information Report in connection with the blasphemy allegation.
Bishop Joseph Indrias Rehmat of Faisalabad told AsiaNews that he had met with high-ranking police officials over the allegations.
“They assured us that they will take the case to heart and that no innocents will be punished, while they try their best to calm the city,” the bishop said.
Asif Munawar, a member of the Ministry of Human Rights and Minority Affairs Punjab said this is “the second case within three months where a nurse is being accused of committing blasphemy.”
“The authorities must take notice of these practices,” Munawar said, adding that “Mariyum Lal must be protected in police custody for a fair investigation to take place.”
Nasir Saeed, director of the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement in the United Kingdom, expressed grave concern over what he described as the “misuse of the blasphemy law” in Pakistan.
“This is not the first incident of this kind, but in the past we have seen how people use this law to settle their personal grudges or punish their rivals,” he said in a statement.
Saeed said the law continues “to imprison and claim the lives of innocent people,” adding that the Pakistani government “failed to make any changes” or stop the abuse of the law.
“Pakistani politicians and Islamic scholars must sit together and make changes or bring new legislation to stop the ongoing misuse of the blasphemy law,” he said.
In Pakistan, false accusations of blasphemy are widespread and often motivated by personal vendettas or religious hatred.
Since Pakistan added Section 295-B and 295-C to the country’s blasphemy laws in 1987, the number of blasphemy accusations have continued to increase.
With Christians only making up 1.6 percent of Pakistan’s total population, the 238 accusations or 15.5 percent made against Christians is highly disproportionate, said ICC’s Stark.
“Too often these laws have been a tool in the hands of extremists seeking to stir up religiously motivated violence against minorities,” he said.
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.