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Arrested Christian in Pakistan Denies Sharing Facebook Post

Arrested Christian in Pakistan Denies Sharing Facebook Post

LAHORE, Pakistan, July 12, 2023 (Morning Star News) – Police in Pakistan on Saturday (July 8) arrested a Christian for allegedly sharing a post on Facebook even though his village’s Islamic cleric and other Muslims denied that it amounted to blasphemy, his brother said.

Wasim Masih told Morning Star News that Sargodha police registered a blasphemy case against his 35-year-old brother, Zaki Masih of Chak 98 Shumaali village, after a local Muslim, Muhammad Awais, accused him of insulting Islam by sharing a post on Facebook.

Police arrested Zaki Masih under Section 295-A of Pakistan’s blasphemy statutes relating to “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs,” punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a fine or both. He was also charged under Section 298 against hurting religious sentiments, punishable by up to one year in prison, a fine or both.

Zaki Masih denies sharing the material, originally posted by a Muslim critical of those who adulterated basic food items such as milk, his brother said. The complainant, Awais, has Muslim friends with whom the two brothers have a property dispute that led to a clash five years ago, Wasim Masih said.

“We reconciled with the other party due to the intervention of the village elders, but it seems they nurtured a grudge and trapped my brother in the fake case,” he told Morning Star News.

The complainant and his friends reached out to several Muslims on Friday (July 7) to solicit support against Zaki Masih, but those people discouraged Awais and the others from inciting hatred against the Christians, Wasim Masih said. He and his brother are members of the United Presbyterian Church.

“Even the imam of the village mosque told them that the post contained nothing derogatory against Islam, and that they should desist from stoking religious tension,” Wasim Masih said. “However, the complainant filed a case against my brother, and the police raided his shop and took him into custody.”

Tensions arose in their community for a few days, as a similar case in a nearby village on June 30 caused several Christian families to flee their homes, he said.

“But fortunately our fellow villagers remained calm and told us not to worry, as they knew the case was frivolous,” Wasim Masih said.

Tensions had flared in Chak 49 Shumaali village of Sargodha after 45-year-old Haroon Shahzad on June 29 posted on his Facebook page 1 Corinthians 10:18-21, regarding food sacrificed to idols. At the time, Muslims were beginning the four-day festival of Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice), which involves slaughtering an animal and sharing the meat.

A Muslim villager took a screenshot of the post, sent it to local social media groups and accused Shahzad of disrespecting the Abrahamic tradition of animal sacrifice and likening Muslims to pagans. Eid al-Adha commemorates God providing a lamb for Abraham to sacrifice instead of his son. In the passage posted from 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul states that pagan sacrifices are offered to demons.

The blasphemy charge against Shahzad stemmed from personal grudges against him by the complainant, Imran Ullah, sources said. They said Ullah had engaged in legal battles with Shahzad over a plot of land allotted by the government for constructing a church building.

Zaki Masih’s attorney, Aneeqa Maria of The Voice Society, told Morning Star News that the charges against him caused panic among Christians in Chak 98 Shumaali village, but timely intervention by Muslim leaders prevented panic and exodus.

“Zaki is now in judicial custody, and we will be filing for his bail this week,” Maria told Morning Star News. “The case is based on mala fide as the accused denies sharing the contentious post, and even the mosque’s imam and other Muslims have denied that it was blasphemous.”

Section 298 is a bailable offense, and police violated the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) by charging Zaki Masih under Section 295-A on the complaint of a private person, Maria said. According to Section 196 of the CrPC, only the provincial government and federal agencies can register a case under Section 295-A.

The lawyer criticized police for repeatedly violating the rules in cases of volatile allegations of blasphemy.

“It has become a norm that whenever a blasphemy allegation is brought against any person, the police outright register a case without proper investigation and following legal procedures,” she said.

False Accusations

Blasphemy laws are often used as a weapon of revenge against both Muslims and non-Muslims to settle personal scores or to resolve disputes over money, property or business. A mere allegation is enough to provoke a mob to riot and lynch falsely accused suspects in Pakistan.

At least 1,949 persons were accused under the blasphemy laws between 1987 and 2021, according to the Center for Social Justice. A large number of these blasphemy cases are still awaiting justice.

As of May 15, 57 cases of alleged blasphemy have been reported this year. Punjab Province tops the list with 28 cases, followed by Sindh Province with 16, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province with 8 and Kashmir Province with 5.

In January, the National Assembly passed the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill, increasing punishment for insulting the companions, wives and family members of Islam’s prophet, Muhammad, from three years to 10 years and a fine of 1 million rupees (US$3,640).

Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, up from eighth the previous year.

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Article originally published by Morning Star News. Used with permission.

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Chrispecoraro