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Christian’s Facebook post leads to blasphemy charges in Pakistan

Arif ALI / AFP
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Sohail Masih arrested just days before country’s annual observance honoring religious minorities.

Just days before an annual observance meant to celebrate the contributions of religious minorities in Pakistan, a Christian man was arrested and charged under the country’s blasphemy laws after he posted comments on Facebook disputing an Islamic belief.

Sohail Masih was arrested on Aug. 5 after commenting publicly on the Islamic practice of eating sacrificial meat on the feast of Eid al-Adha.

“It is not possible that the blood of goats and bulls can wash away sins,” Masih wrote on Facebook.

Masih was being kept in custody for his own safety, said Kamran Chaudhry, writing from Lahore for UCA News. On the evening of Masih’s arrest, an angry mob held protests and attacked the police station in Nowshera Virkan in Punjab province.

“Shouting slogans against Masih, the protesters tore away the door of the police station and exchanged angry words with police officers,” Chaudhry reported.

Khalid Shehzad, a Catholic member of the National Lobbying Delegation, told UCAN that a major problem in the situation is the hardline religious party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, which exerts an inordinate amount of pressure on police. “Their activists outnumber the police, who succumb to pressure and register blasphemy cases,” he said. “The victim spends his whole life on trial. Semi-literate pastors teach hate.”

The highest profile case of a Christian in Pakistan suffering from the country’s blasphemy laws was Asia Bibi, who was finally released last year after spending 10 years on death row.

“Because of silence and inaction from the government, people are taking the law as a religious duty,” said Shehzad.

“Local Christians are scared, keeping in view the past mayhem in Gojra, Sanglalhill and Joseph Colony, where infuriated masses attacked and burnt several houses, churches and even killed several people,” said the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) UK, a charity dedicated to helping persecuted Christians in Pakistan. “But the police has been deployed for their safety.”

Pakistan’s National Minorities Day was observed August 11 to honor the nation’s religious minorities who have contributed to creating Pakistan and in nation-building. It commemorates the speech of Pakistan’s founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah to the legislature on Aug. 11, 1947, days before Pakistan separated from India, in which he pledged to protect the rights of non-Muslims in the newly created country.

 

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