While Pakistan celebrates 75 years of independence, the Christian minority continues to face discrimination, harassment and violence because of their faith.
On 8 August, a Catholic man was killed and three teenagers injured when two gunmen on motorbikes opened fire in a Christian colony in the town of Mastung, 45kms south of Quetta, central west Pakistan. The victim, Wilson Masih, was the brother of Hendry Masih, a Christian member of Pakistan’s Parliament who was killed by his bodyguard in Quetta in 2014.
On 4 July Ashfaq Masih, 34, a Christian bicycle mechanic from the Green Town neighborhood in Lahore in northeast Pakistan, was sentenced to death for blasphemy during an argument with a customer, Muhammad Irfan.
Irfan had asked Masih to not charge him for a bicycle repair because he was a follower of Sufi and its saints but the mechanic had “rejected his request, saying he only followed Jesus and wasn’t interested in Irfan’s religious status as a Muslim,” Masih’s attorney, Riaz Anjum, told Morning Star News. Masih was then arrested and charged with disrespecting the Prophet Muhammad.
The bicycle shop owner denies the charges and believes the case against him is based on a conspiracy between his landlord Muhammad Ashfaq and Muhammad Naveed who owns a bicycle repair shop nearby. Both men had harassed Masih in the past and “Masih believes [they] conspired to implicate him in a blasphemy case using Irfan,” Anjum said.
In another blasphemy case, on 8 June, the Lahore High Court upheld the death sentence of two Christian brothers who were found guilty in 2018 of posting blasphemous content on the internet. Qaiser and Amoon Ayub have maintained they are innocent. The two brothers have been in prison since 2011 and now say they will take their case to the Supreme Court.
While blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan, and many have been convicted under these laws, no-one has ever been executed for it.
The central-western region of the country, bordering Afghanistan, has seen an uptick in violence in recent months caused by separatist groups and Islamist militants.
Meanwhile, despite the acquittal from the death penalty of Asia Bibi by the Supreme Court in 2019, the number of blasphemy cases involving Christians has also been on the rise, according to the country report by religious freedom charity Open Doors. “The blasphemy laws are well known for being used for settling personal scores, making personal gains or for satisfying grudges one neighbor may have against another,” it said.