The reality of Pakistani Christians’ suffering under the blasphemy law

Nasir Saeed
Pakistani Christians are now regularly making nation and international headlines, not because they have achieved something, but because of their suffering for being Christians. Thus Pakistan is being maligned by the international community, which is de facto because of the government’s poor policies and obliviousness to Christians’ growing issues. They have been suffering for decades in all walks of their lives, but the government has not been paying any attention because they have no voice – their leadership has neither guts nor a conscience.

Many Pakistani Christian leaders have already moved to western countries for better futures for their families and have applied for asylum, while those remaining have their suitcases packed and there is no one willing to try and heal their wounds. Christians continue to be pushed to the edge, to the point where they may have no choice left other than to be killed or retaliate. We have seen the trailer of the Youhanabad church attack, which is still proving a hard pill to swallow for Pakistan’s different factions.

The recent attack on Sandha, Dhup Sarri’s Christians is the latest addition to their grievances, they are still trying to recover from their old injuries. It has been more than two months, and there is a lot of fear and despair in the air therefore many of residents are still scared of returning to their homes.

The police continue to arrest people, without any evidence, for alleged involvement in the lynching of two Muslims, but this culture has evolved and been promoted during the PML-N (Pakistan Muslims League) governments and now there are dozens of examples of Christians’ lynching. I wish at least that the government learns something now and makes human life its priority instead of gardens and bridges.

The blasphemy law is being widely misused against minorities and it has been admitted by the media and politicians too. But even after so much tumult and bloodshed, sadly the government has failed to take appropriate action to stop the ongoing misuse of the blasphemy law, and ensure security and protection to Christians.

Christians consider themselves a main target and this is true as there are now several examples where one individual like Humayun is accused of committing blasphemy by someone without any proof, and then the whole Christian community comes under attack, their towns are set on fire, churches are rampaged and desecrated and several innocent people, who have nothing to do with the alleged crime, are killed. Such attacks against any community and the killing of innocent people shouldn’t be permitted at any cost, and if it persists then it is either the government’s failure or with its approval.

Everyone knows that some people are using the blasphemy law as an easy way to settle personal vendettas, but still there is no chance of bringing any changes or amendment to stop its misuse. Obliviousness to this issue in fact continues to contribute to their miseries and could be costly. The majority of these cases are happening in Punjab, where the PML-N (Pakistan Muslim league) has been ruling for the last several years.

We have recently had statements from Ch. Nisar Ali Khan, interior minister, who said that the lynching witnessed on Sunday is “the worst form of terrorism” as such attacks happen everywhere, so he has no problem as long as the lynched person is not Muslim.

Shahbaz Sharif, Chief Minister, said that the culprits involved in burning two people alive will be arrested at every cost, as Pakistan belongs to every person who lives there. But maybe this does not apply to Christians who have been under attack for decades and several Christians have been lynched.

Even prime Nawaz Sharif’s action plans do not seem to take into account minorities, while the Sindh government has done a marvellous job, recently passing to two bills – one about including Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s speech of Aug 11, 1947 in the school curriculum, and another about making mandatory the mental health assessment of blasphemy suspects.

Instead of making frothy statements the PML-N leadership should follow the footsteps of the Sindh government. They should bring these changes in Punjab where these changes are most needed and where they are ruling with a majority.

Though recently the anti-Terrorism Court of Pakistan has charged 106 suspects with beating and burning a Christian couple in a brick kiln furnace in Kot Radha Kishan, last November, since there is no precedent, people are not taking it seriously. Interestingly there are several examples where perpetrators are treated like heroes and are enjoying impunity. Mumtaz Qadri, who has many followers now, is just one example.

We saw what happened to his case, and now even his appeal has been fixed for hearing in the Supreme Court, while Aasia Bibi’s still pending. In Rimsha Masih’s case Imam Jadoon was freed despite burning pages containing verses form holy Quran and falsely implicating Rimsha.

And in Sanglahill Muhammad Saleem was never questioned even after he admitted that he burnt the Quran Palace to incriminate Yousaf Masih. If the administration and judiciary had dealt with these cases mindfully, the situation could have been different today, no one could think of self-justice and dare to take law into their hands.

Almost all Muslim countries have a blasphemy law on their statue book, but we hardly hear about such stories elsewhere. If anyone commits blasphemy they are dealt with according to the law, but in Pakistan instead of the accused being handed over to the police, they are more likely to be killed by vigilantes. This is all because of the government’s lack of will and poor polices. We need to learn from Afghan girl Farkhunda’s case, whose perpetrators were brought to justice very recently.

Also is the government going to take any action against those who were involved in provoking and attacking Dhup Sarri, and is the government going to deal with Humayun’s case in the light of the law passed recently by the Sindh assembly?

Though this is peremptory challenge, at the end of the day, it has to be dealt with, so let’s deal with it now.

I pray that God fills the Pakistani Government’s heart with a sense of urgency and causes them to become overburdened by the injustice that continues to increase in scale against Christians and other religious minorities. That it does not allow fear and intimidation to overcome it, but makes it decisions with wisdom and diligence.

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