ASIA/PAKISTAN - Three cases of blasphemy accusations against Christians in one month: tensions in Sargodha

Wednesday, 19 July 2023 blasphemy   islam   religious minorities  

Sargodha (Agenzia Fides) - Tensions exist in Sargodha, a town in Pakistani Punjab, where three separate cases of blasphemy accusations against local Christians have occurred in less than a month, sparking violence and leaving Christian residents worried for their safety. The latest case is the one that occurred on July 16 in the village of Chak No. 50, called "Mariam Town", where Mohd Abdul Gaffar, a retired Pakistani Air Force officer, said that on returning home with Qari Muhammad Asif, imam of the local mosque, he discovered a small pamphlet with blasphemous content, left on the perimeter wall of his house. The content of the brochure was extremely disrespectful of the Prophet Muhammad and other Islamic figures, as well as the Koran, and even praised the recent burning of the Koran in Sweden. The news spread quickly in the area, attracting people to the site. The crowd expressed their anger and frustration, demanding severe punishment for the unknown blasphemer. The police arrived at the scene to bring the situation under control and filed a complaint (First Information Report) against unknown persons pursuant to articles 295a, 295b, 295c and 298a of the Penal Code, articles which constitute the so-called "blasphemy law". Although the identity of the pamphlet's authors is unknown, in retaliation the outraged mob began vandalizing Christian homes, forcing police to patrol the area to prevent more serious incidents and maintain order. In Sargodha, this is the third incident of this type in a few weeks. On July 5, Haroon Shahzad, a Christian from the village of Chak No. 49, was accused of blasphemy and arrested for having published a passage from the Bible on his Facebook social network account (see Fides, 5/7/2023). For the same reason, in the village Chak n. 98 in the same district, another Christian, Zaki Masih, was accused of blasphemy on July 8, while his post on Facebook criticized the perpetrators of food fraud. Pakistani Christians fear an outbreak of violence, already threatened with the burning of the Koran in Sweden, an act promptly condemned by believers in Christ (see Fides, 17/7/2023). According to local sources, some radical groups may be using the Koran burning incident in Sweden as a pretext for acts of revenge. "Christians in Pakistan believe in respect for all religions and have no connection with the incident of the discovery of the blasphemous pamphlet, let alone the incident of the burning of the Koran, which they have unequivocally condemned.
Unfortunately, some elements within the country seek to fan the flames of religious hatred by taking advantage of such situations", notes Nasir Saeed, Director of the NGO CLAAS (Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement). "It is imperative that the government take the necessary steps to end the misuse of the blasphemy law in Pakistan", he concludes, "and to ensure the safety of the innocent families of Pakistan's Christian citizens in Sargodha". (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 19/7/2023)