Family: Christian boys accused of blasphemy after argument with policeman

LAHORE: Two Christian boys, one of them a minor, have been arrested and charged with blasphemy after a minor altercation with a police constable in Lahore earlier this week, reports citing sources said.

According to Babar Sandhu Masih, his 18-year-old son Adil Babar and their 14-year-old neighbour Simon Masih were arrested by the Race Course police on the complaint of police constable Zahid Sohail, who accused them of disrespecting the prophet.

“Adil and Simon were standing in the street talking to each other when Sohail picked up a fight with them, alleging that they had committed blasphemy,” said Masih, who works at an auto workshop as a car painter.

“When elders of the neighbourhood asked Sohail to substantiate his accusation with the evidence, he failed to satisfy them and left,” Masih said. He added that the Race Course police raided the locality later that evening and arrested Adil and Simon.

“The boys were booked under Section 295-C of the blasphemy law,” he said. Section 295-C of Pakistan’s blasphemy statutes prohibits disrespect of the prophet and is punishable by death.

Masih said that Adil had left school some years ago and was training with him to become a car painter.

“A judge sent the two boys to prison on judicial remand on Friday. The allegation against Adil and Simon is completely baseless and we hope the court will provide justice to us.

“Adil’s mother is a heart patient and doesn’t yet know what has happened to him. I don’t know how she will react when she comes to know that our youngest son is in prison on such a serious charge,” he said.

FALSE ACCUSATIONS

Several people have been lynched or killed unlawfully over false accusations of blasphemy in Pakistan.

Last week, a court released on bail a Christian woman charged with blasphemy after she and a Muslim coworker were accused of intentionally burning papers containing Quranic verses.

Commenting on the recent case, Church of Pakistan’s President Bishop Azad Marshall said the incident in Lahore shows how blasphemy allegations are misused to victimize vulnerable citizens.

“In spite of repeated demands for the government to introduce deterrents, officials have failed to stop the misuse of the blasphemy laws,” he said.

Pakistan has seen an increase in violence in the name of religion, he said.

“False accusations of blasphemy seem to have become the norm here,” Marshall said. “We understand that abolishing or repealing of the blasphemy statutes is unlikely in this religiously-charged environment, but it’s high time the state should implement a strong deterrent against the misuse of the laws.”

The bishop said he and others have made several recommendations to successive government administrations to curb the abuse, but without progress.

“No one should suffer violence or rot in prison due to false allegations of a crime as serious as blasphemy,” Marshall said.

“For us, all lives matter,” he said. “We can’t choose between Christians and people of other faiths when it comes to justice.”

According to data collected by the Lahore-based Center for Social Justice and People’s Commission for Minorities Rights, at least 57 cases of alleged blasphemy were reported in Pakistan between January 1 and May 10, while four blasphemy suspects were lynched or extrajudicially killed during the same period.

The data reflects the period from January to May 10, 2023, with eight incidents occurring in January, a significant increase to 17 cases in February, seven cases in March, another surge to 19 cases in April, and six cases in May (up to the 10th), totaling 57 accused individuals.

Statistics showed that the highest number of blasphemy cases, 28, were reported in Punjab, followed by Sindh with 16, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with eight, and Azad Jammu and Kashmir with five.

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