The director of CLAAS UK, a Christian organisation supporting the persecuted church in Pakistan, says the country’s blasphemy law is being misused by extremists to harass Christians in spite of the government’s promises to protect the rights of minorities.
Nasir Saeed said: “The misappropriation of the blasphemy law to settle personal vendettas is becoming a common occurrence in Pakistan.The Pakistani government must take steps to rectify the law and protect all citizens equally.”
His warning comes after a string of blasphemy cases involving Christians. Most recently, in Wandow near Gujranwala, Christian market stall owner Gulzar Kanwal was cleared of allegations that she had made derogatory remarks against the Prophet Muhammad during a row with a Muslim market stall owner.
Instead of registering a blasphemy case against Gulzar, police took the unusual step of conducting their own investigation into the incident and concluded that Gulzar had in fact not committed any blasphemy.
CLAAS praised local police for refusing to accept the allegations of extremists at face value and conducting their own investigation.
It wants to see police across Pakistan adopt a similar approach where blasphemy charges have been brought against a Christian, particularly where such charges seriously jeopardise the lives of individuals or the wider Christian community.
More often than not in Pakistan, police tend to side with the extremists and fail to conduct full investigations into alleged acts of blasphemy.
Earlier in the month, Qamar David was sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty of sending insulting text messages from his mobile phone.
Christian husband and wife, Ruqiya and Munir Masih, were this month sentenced to 25 years in prison for supposedly touching the Koran with unwashed hands, leaving their six children with an uncertain future in a country that provides next to no social welfare.
It is the first time a husband and wife have been sentenced to prison for blasphemy at the same time. CLAAS believes the couple were falsely accused by Muslims wanting to settle a personal grudge and that their imprisonment is profoundly unjust. It is seeking the release of Ruqiya on compassionate grounds to ensure the welfare of the children.
Mr Saeed called upon the Pakistani government to issue a directive to police specifying that a blasphemy case cannot be registered against a person until the accusation has been investigated by police officers. He believes this will cut the number of minorities being falsely accused and imprisoned for a crime they never committed.
“At present, police can imprison individuals if an accusation has been registered against them, even where there is no evidence and no investigation has been carried out into the allegation,” he said.
“More often than not, the authorities side with the accusers despite little or no evidence. Innocent Christians are being robbed of their lives by harsh prison sentences that far outweigh what could ever possibly be justified by their supposed crime.
“If the government feels any responsibility towards the welfare of its citizens, then it should take the necessary steps to ensure that all of them, minorities included, have the same ability to live in peace.”