Imran Masih, a Christian youth from a small town of Mandi Bahauddin District in Punjab, Pakistan, has been accused of committing blasphemy.
Shamila Ghyas, a writer for the local paper Nation, explained the “act of blasphemy”: “He made a video on his cell phone of a wedding he had attended of a Muslim colleague’s daughter. When he went back to work as a janitor at the local Health Care Centre, a colleague asked him to show him the clip. Imran gave him the phone and left to finish his work.
After his return, he saw his phone in the hands of another Muslim man, Bilal, who was playing a YouTube video of Pastor Sami Samson, widely known to be critical of Islam. He was showing the video to others claiming that Imran Masih watches such blasphemous material…
After beating him severely, with Imran constantly denying he ever watched such videos or even knew how to look them up, they locked him up in an empty room. He was eventually rescued by committee members who requested that this matter be solved peacefully.”
Though there hasn’t been a report lodged against him at the local police station, religious extremists in the area have issued a fatwa asking for the boy’s death over the charges. They plan to set him on fire in front of the local church as a punishment.
The local religious leaders have also announced a cash prize of Rs. 100,000 ($955) for information about his whereabouts.
Masih has reportedly been in hiding. The fanatics are demanding the boy, and if the community fails to hand him over, the extremists plan to seek revenge on the residents by burning down their entire village.
Local Christians have urged the authorities and leaders of the country to take action and provide them with security.
An enraged mob of Muslim majority tried to attack the houses of the Christian community, but the police officials who were tipped off about the impending attack prevented the incident.
The Christian population has been given a number of choices by the members of the local mosque committee:
- Hand over Masih
- Migrate from the area
- Collectively convert to Islam
In the meanwhile, the Muslim community has announced a boycott of the Christians in the area. There is to be no interaction or business conducted with them. The local Christians, who mostly work as menial laborers in the fields and homes of local Muslims, no longer have jobs. The local vendors refuse to deal with them and they have to travel to the city of Mandi Bahauddin several miles away to buy even their groceries.
A large number of people have already left the village fearing for their lives.
Assistant Sub-Inspector Muhammad Nawaz said the charges of blasphemy have not been proven against the youth. But that can be no consolation for the Christians in the community, for "religious zeal" wins over law and order easily.
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According to Pakistan's blasphemy laws, anyone found to have uttered words derogatory to Islam, God or the Prophet Muhammad, can be put to death. Those who are accused are sometimes lynched by mobs even before they reach court.
The charge is also difficult to defend since blasphemy is not defined and courts often hesitate to hear evidence, fearful that reproducing it will also be blasphemy.
Very few dare challenge either the accusations or the lopsided law of blasphemy in Pakistan — a country where prominent politicians can be accused of the charge and fear for their lives, where a minister and a governor can be murdered for suggesting changes to the said law.
That is perhaps the reason why there is hardly anyone challenging the fanatics threatening the Christians in the doomed village.
Saleem Iqbal of Care Council for Human Rights, the man who initially brought the incident to light, said he unsuccessfully attempted to approach Christian parliamentarians and provincial assembly members for assistance.
“All these minority MNAs [Members of National Assembly] and MPAs [Members of Provincial Assembly] such as Kamran Micheal, Shehzad Munshi, Tariq Masih and Shakil Marth, and members of interfaith harmony councils enjoy the perks of representing us in the legislatures. However, they have done nothing till now and will only arrive here once tragedy strikes,” he lamented.