One quarter of the way into 2010 and it is fair to say that this is shaping up to be yet another year of hardship and injustice for Pakistan’s Christians, rather than the turning point we had all hoped for.
In the last month, three Christians have received lengthy prison sentences for blasphemy. Qamar David was given a life sentence after being found guilty of sending insulting text messages from his mobile phone in 2006, a charge he denied. Days later, husband and wife Ruqiya and Munir Masih were sentenced to 25 years in prison for supposedly desecrating the Koran, a ruling which, in a country with so little welfare provision, has effectively sentenced their six children to an uncertain future.
CLAAS firmly believes that Qamar, Ruqiya and Munir will one day be proved innocent and that the courts must acquit them. The question remains, however: will their accusers ever be questioned for bringing false charges against them? Who will return the years, months and days lost in jail and who will compensate these Christians for their wrong imprisonment?
It is a travesty that those who brought the false accusations against them will most likely never be brought to justice. Since the blasphemy law was introduced, no Christian has ever been proved guilty and charges have always eventually been dropped or guilty verdicts later overturned. Despite assurances from Minorities Minister Shahbaz Batthi of government plans to review the blasphemy law, pressure from Muslims makes it unlikely that the law will be changed soon. The government, the courts, and the police all know that blasphemy cases are made up by individuals for no other reason than to settle their personal vendettas and that in some cases the accusers have later admitted that this was their reason for levelling such charges. The blasphemy law is widely misused and causing many problems for non-Muslims, especially Christians. Despite the condemnation of the international community, the Pakistani government has failed to take steps towards amending or repealing it.
The law of the land is supposed to protect and enhance the lives of a country’s citizens, not destroy them. The blasphemy law must either be substantially amended or abolished altogether if Christians and other minorities are to be able to live in peace in Pakistan, free from the fear that they may be sent to prison for the rest of their life or even executed for a crime they never committed.
The years lost in prison can never be repaid but ensuring that future generations never have to face the same fate is the least the government can do for its people. We still hope that the turning point for Pakistan’s Christians can come this year.