Lahore (Agenzia Fides) - Punjab and Lahore district are areas in which there has been an extraordinary incidence of blasphemy cases in Pakistan in the last three decades: this is what the NGO "Center for Social Justice", reports to Agenzia Fides, led in Pakistan by Catholic Peter Jacob. Noting that 74% of all cases are recorded in Punjab, the Center notes that in Lahore 173 have been verified, more than 11% of the total. Out of 75 people killed in relation to alleged blasphemy until January 2018, 14 murders took place in Lahore, including the murder of retired judge Arif Iqbal Bhatti. At least four murders - continued the note sent by Jacob - took place during police custody or in prison". The stories of men and women of different faiths present shocking accounts of brutality and enormous suffering of helpless victims", notes the Director of the NGO. "Hundreds of people have been tortured, jailed, imprisoned. Property worth billions of rupees was destroyed by an angry mob on the Lahore Mall Road in 2006 and Joseph Colony in 2013", the Center reports, but "the economic loss is only the tip of the iceberg compared to the social, political and cultural consequences in Lahore".
Religious hostility, vulnerability of minorities and erosion of cultural ethos, notes Jacob, are in stark contrast to the known cultural openness, hospitality and intellectual wealth of the metropolis. According to recent studies by Amnesty International, "the blasphemy law is widely abused to perpetrate hate crimes based on religion, regulate personal vendettas and perpetrate economic injustice", says the Center for Social Justice.
"Given that the Lahore district is home to many religious groups promoting a narrative based on religious intolerance, it is not difficult to understand why Lahore has become an epicenter of the abuse of blasphemy laws", the statement continues.
The Center recalls the recent case of Patras Masih, accused of blasphemy in the suburb of Shahdara, Lahore, in the story that involved his cousin Sajid Masih: both subjected to torture and attempted sexual abuse.
Jacob concludes: "The circumstances involving these cases deserve a deeper thought from a legal standpoint. Members of civil society have not given up despite the difficulties. Lawyers have fought for years in a hostile social environment. Will leaders of public institutions have the courage and wisdom to save the city from turning it into a cemetery of innocent people? It is time to listen to the cry of the innocent". (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 6/3/2018)