ASIA/PAKISTAN - Christian accused of blasphemy for posting a Bible passage on Facebook

Wednesday, 5 July 2023 human rights   blasphemy   religious minorities  

The Voice

Faisalabad (Agenzia Fides) - Haroon Shehzad, a 49-year-old Christian from the village of Chack 49, near Sargodha, in the Punjab province of Pakistan, has been accused of blasphemy and arrested for publishing a post on Facebook that was considered blasphemous. The post consisted solely of a Bible passage from the first Letter of the apostle Paul to the Corinthians, without any comment. The passage, taken from chapter 10 of the Letter, verses 18-22, reads: "Look at Israel according to the flesh; are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? So what am I saying? That meat sacrificed to idols is anything? Or that an idol is anything? No, I mean that what they sacrifice, (they sacrifice) to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to become participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and also the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and of the table of demons. Or are we provoking the Lord to jealous anger? Are we stronger than he?" The post was published on June 27, two days before the Islamic festival of sacrifice, "Eid-Ul-Azha".
The complainant, a Muslim Imran Ullah, who lives in the same village as the accused, read the text and related it to the nature of the Festival of Sacrifice and accused Haroon of blasphemy. Tensions erupted after Imran Ullah incited villagers to loudly proclaim alleged "blasphemous acts by Christians" in several mosques. Dozens of Christian families fled to a nearby village, fearing reprisals. Although Shahzad's post contained no personal comments on the Muslim festival, celebrated worldwide from June 29 to July 1, accusations of blasphemy spread and violent riots broke out. The Haroon family also left the village and turned to Christian lawyer Aneeqa Maria Anthony, head of The Voice organization, which provides legal assistance in such cases.
The lawyer established that the complaint (the "First Information Report") had been registered against Haroon and ensured that the man and his family were protected as potential victims of an attack or lynching. Haroon, meanwhile, was taken to court in Sargodha, where the judge granted bail before the arrest. The man, accompanied by his lawyer, then went to the police station to give his statement and was taken into custody by the police. The team of lawyers is now awaiting the July 11 bail confirmation hearing. The lawyer explains to Fides: "We know that the accused has not committed a crime. But given the current circumstances, the sensitive issue of the blasphemy law and the location where we are - all factors affecting the case - the situation is not favourable. However, we are moving forward with perseverance and confidence. We believe that God will not abandon us. We intend to take legal action, defend an innocent man, seek bail and join the investigation. "In the meantime, we hope there will be no mass violence. Thousands of cases like this are pending in Pakistan's courts, where Christian citizens are being wrongly charged and arrested, even though they are innocent." The notorious "Blasphemy Law" in Pakistan consists of several articles of the Penal Code: Articles 295 and 295a punish blasphemy against religion in general terms; In particular, two controversial paragraphs (295b and 295c) punish those who denigrate Islam, the Koran or the Prophet Mohammed with life imprisonment or the death penalty. In addition, the burden of proof lies not with the accuser but with the accused. The law is often exploited and used for personal revenge campaigns. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 5/7/2023)