Some 200 Pakistani Christians who fled their neighbourhood in a Lahore suburb over a month ago, after mobs of Muslims demanded the arrest of a Christian for alleged blasphemy, were back in the streets on 25 March for a Palm Sunday procession, as in a video by Catholic news agency UCAN:
Hameed Masih*, whose family was one of those to flee, told UCAN: “We definitely got a boost from being able to profess our faith openly in the streets after being haunted and living in terror. It was a big deal.”
World Watch Monitor reported that as many as 800 families fled after 20-year-old Patras Masih was accused of using his phone to post a blasphemous picture in a Facebook group. He surrendered to the police on 19 February, and was handed by the court to the cybercrime wing of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).
Four days later his cousin Sajid Masih was summoned by the FIA office in Lahore and during the investigation jumped from a fourth floor window, suffering multiple fractures. He claims he was tortured by police and jumped to avoid being forced by officers to perform a sex act on his cousin.
Patras is still in custody, awaiting a first hearing, while both his and Sajid’s families remain in hiding.
“There is a systematic delay in these cases,” Lahore-based lawyer Asad Jamal, who has represented several people accused of blasphemy, told Al Jazeera.
Blasphemy in Pakistan
Rights activists have condemned the alleged torture and sexual abuse of the Masih cousins and called on the government to investigate, while Christians have held protests against yet another blasphemy accusation against a Christian.
But activists from the Islamist political party Tehreek-e-Labaik staged protests of their own, demanding the death penalty for Patras Masih.
Pakistani Christians make up only 1.5 per cent of the total population, but over a quarter (187) of the 702 blasphemy cases registered between 1990 and 2014 were against Christians.
In one such case, a Christian couple were burnt alive following allegations they had set fire to some pages from a Quran. On Saturday, 24 March, an Anti-Terrorism Court in Lahore acquitted 20 men suspected of involvement in their murder.
In an effort to stop the abuse of blasphemy laws, Pakistan’s Senate Special Committee on Human Rights has recommended that those who falsely accuse someone of blasphemy receive the same punishment as those convicted of blasphemy.
*The name ‘Masih’, which derives from ‘Messiah’, has been used for whole Christian communities for many years in Pakistan. Bibi, meanwhile, is a respectful term for a married or older woman in Pakistan and other parts of South Asia – the most famous Christian example being Asia Bibi, who has been on death row for blasphemy since 2010.