Police in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province arrested a Christian man on charges of blasphemy after residents alleged they found pages torn from a Quran inside a drain. While it’s unknown how he could have done it, the man is now facing life in prison if found guilty.
David Masih, a Christian from the Kachi Line area of Risalpure neighbourhood, was arrested Sunday and charged with committing blasphemy under Section 295-B of Pakistan’s Penal Code, the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern reported.
Masih was arrested three days after someone posted a video of pages of a Quran lying in a drain on social media and it reportedly went viral. While police say they have started investigating, they have not released any evidence linking Masih to the desecrated Quran.
“The abuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws must be curbed,” ICC’s Regional Manager for South Asia, William Stark, said. “Too often these laws have been a tool in the hands of extremists seeking to stir up religiously motivated violence against minority communities. Without real reform, religious minorities, including Christians, will face more false blasphemy accusations and the extreme violence that often accompanies these accusations.”
Christians are often targeted both by Pakistan’s blasphemy laws meant to protect Islamic sensitivities and by hardliners who carry out violence and have killed scores of believers in the past several years.
The blasphemy law, embedded in Sections 295 and 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code, is frequently misused for personal revenge. It carries no provision to punish a false accuser or a false witness of blasphemy.
The law is also used by Islamist extremists to target religious minorities — Christians, Shi’as, Ahmadiyyas and Hindus.
A Christian man recently charged with blasphemy for making a theological argument on Facebook that Muslims deemed insulting toward the Islamic prophet Muhammad is now facing a potential death sentence for the post.
The London-based Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement, an interdenominational aid agency serving persecuted Christians in Muslim-majority Pakistan, earlier reported that Sohail Masih in the Nowshera Virkan area in Punjab province was arrested on Aug. 5.
Following a protest by a crowd of enraged Muslims who heard about Masih’s comment online, police officially charged Masih under sections 295-A and 295-C of the Pakistani Penal Code.
Efforts by some of the country’s prominent leaders to repeal or amend the law have gone in vain.
A Pakistani Christian, Shahbaz Bhatti, who was an elected member of the National Assembly, was assassinated in March 2011 for his efforts to repeal the law. Minister of Minority Affairs, Bhatti was murdered two months after Punjab’s Governor Salman Taseer was assassinated for his advocacy for Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi, who had been convicted by a trial court for blasphemy and was released in 2019.
Pakistan is ranked as the fifth-worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s 2020 World Watch List.
At the U.S. State Department’s 2019 Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, Pakistani rights activist Shaan Taseer said that there are as many as 200 people jailed in Pakistan on blasphemy charges.