A Christian woman in Pakistan has been accused of blasphemy and arrested for simply receiving a text message on her mobile phone.
Shagufta Rafiq was accused of committing blasphemy and arrested on July 29 in a police raid on her home in Islamabad, said a report from the human rights group International Christian Concern.
Shagufta was charged under 295-A and 295-B of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and could face life in prison if convicted.
She was accused of violating the country’s notorious blasphemy laws after she received a text message on her WhatsApp account.
“We are very concerned by Shagufta’s arrest and the blasphemy allegation that has been leveled against her,” said William Stark, ICC’s regional manager for South Asia.
“No one should face the prospect of life imprisonment for simply receiving a text message on WhatsApp,” he added.
“Pakistan’s blasphemy laws must not be allowed to be misused in this case,” said Stark, adding that these laws “have been a tool in the hands of extremists seeking to stir up religiously motivated violence against minority communities.”
Following Shagufta’s arrest, her family went into hiding due to death threats from religious extremists.
Rafiq Masih, Shagufta’s husband, said “dozens of policemen and members of law enforcement agencies” forcibly entered their house on July 29.
“They harassed my family and took possession of our phones, laptops, and other valuables,” said Masih.
He said the policemen were fully armed and ordered those inside not to move while they search the house.
Aside from Shagufta, her two sons and a daughter were also arrested. The children were later released.
Masih said his wife was detained because the police found that she is a member of a WhatsApp group chat where someone shared an allegedly blasphemous post.
“Shagufta was unaware of the post, but has been accused of forwarding it,” said her husband.
“Due to threats, my family has moved to another city without any of our valuables,” said Masih.
“The fanatics in the neighborhood did not allow us to take anything from our house with us,” he said.
In Pakistan, false accusations of blasphemy are widespread and often motivated by personal vendettas or religious hatred, said the ICC in its report.
Accusations are highly inflammatory and have the potential to spark mob lynchings, vigilante murders, and mass protests, it added.
Between 1987 and 2017, at least 1,534 individuals in Pakistan were accused of blasphemy. At least 829 accusations were made against religious minorities.