A Christian couple in Gojra has been charged under the blasphemy law for allegedly sending blasphemous text messages to a local Muslim, Pakistan Today has learnt.
According to details, the Gojra City Police Station registered a case [FIR No. 407/13] under Section 295-C of the country’s blasphemy law against Shafqat Masih, 43, and his wife Shagufta, 40, on Sunday on a complaint filed by one Rana Muhammad Ejaz who alleged that he had received blasphemous text messages from a number registered in the name of Shagufta.
Gojra City Police Station House Officer Inspector Muhammad Nisar told Pakistan Today that the police had verified that the SIM used to send the blasphemous text messages was registered in Shagufta’s name while her husband had “admitted” using it in his phone to send the messages to Ejaz.
Shagufta works at Gojra’s Saint John’s School as a maid. Her husband is physically handicapped but takes care of the campus as a night watchman. The couple reportedly has four children between the ages of five and 11.
Inspector Nisar said that Shafqat had admitted to his “crime” when taken into custody and his confession remained unchanged before a judicial magistrate.
Rufus Solomon, a minorities leader of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party told Pakistan Today that he had visited Gojra to enquire about the incident as the local Christians had informed him of a tense situation developing in the area which has previously seen a violent attack by enraged Muslims in 2009. Eight Christians were burnt alive and about 40 houses and a church were set on fire by the mobs following allegations that local Christians had desecrated the Holy Quran.
“The police were very hostile and refused to share their investigation with us. They even refused to hand over a copy of the FIR to us, claiming that the Faisalabad Regional Police Officer (RPO) had ordered them to seal it because of the sensitivity of the situation. But the SHO was lying as we managed to get a copy of the FIR from the very police station after a few hours. This one action of the police makes the case suspicious,” said Solomon.
Solomon called for an independent enquiry into the incident, lamenting that cases of persecution of minorities rise in Punjab whenever the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz is in government. “Shafqat’s statement could have been taken forcibly to appease the mobs. If he has committed the crime then he should be dealt with according to the law but the case must be investigated on merit. The life of two people is at stake therefore the chief minister should ensure that justice is administered,” he said.
ACCUSED SAYS ‘CONFESSION FORCED’
Sources have meanwhile told Pakistan Today that Shafqat has denied sending the blasphemous text messages. “Shafqat says the couple has been framed in a false case. He says that the police had forced him to record his confession before the magistrate,” said an official of a local Christian rights outfit, requesting not to be named.
Although the official has not visited the accused couple in jail himself, he claimed that two lawyers representing his NGO had met with Shafqat and recorded his statement. “The case is quite complex as we have yet to find out the truth,” he said.
Napolean Qayyum, a minorities leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, said that it was alarming that Christians were increasingly being accused of blasphemy through text messages.
“This is the third incident of this nature where Christians have been booked for allegedly sending blasphemous content via cell phones. The first case was registered in Karachi against Qamar David who was allegedly killed in Karachi Central Prison a couple of years ago. The second case involved a Christian youth, Sajjad Masih who was sentenced to life imprisonment and fined Rs 200,000 by a Gojra trial court two weeks ago,” he said.