Christians call for fairer treatment in blasphemy inquiries, like the case of Asia Bibi. Illustration: Open Doors International

Pakistani Christians are calling for fairer investigations into alleged blasphemy cases, after a Muslim man caught burning pages of the Quran was quickly acquitted, UCANews reports.

After the man was beaten up and handed over to the authorities, the police found that he had been ‘mentally instable’ when he caused the offence.

Christians pointed out that if he had been a Christian, the treatment would have been far harsher. “The burning of the Quran would have been disastrous for local Christians,” according to Anjum James Paul, a Catholic professor and Chairman of Pakistan Minorities Teachers’ Association: “Non-Muslims [accused of blasphemy] are not even given the chance to explain. Houses and villages have been burned by charged mobs as biased police officials watched helplessly. We demand a fair investigation and equal treatment for Christians implicated in such sensitive cases”.

The most famous case is that of Aasiya Noreen, commonly known as Asia Bibi, the first Pakistani Christian woman to be sentenced to death for blasphemy, allegedly insulting Islam’s prophet when she offered water to a Muslim co-worker. After almost eight years in prison she is waiting for her Supreme Court appeal to be heard. This was delayed in October last year amidst renewed Islamist calls for her to die.

How to prevent blasphemy laws from unfair application

A Senate Committee has been set up to debate how “to prevent the country’s blasphemy laws being applied unfairly, despite opposition from religious conservatives”.

Statistics from organizations like the Catholic bishops’ National Commission for Justice and Peace in Lahore and the Centre for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad show that of the total number of those accused, convicted and murdered because of blasphemy, the majority is actually Muslim. This, however, does not take into account the fact that religious minorities are disproportionately accused of blasphemy: some say 15% are Christians, when they only form around 2% of the population.

Thomas Muller, an analyst for World Watch Research, called for cautious optimism : “There have been countless efforts to amend Pakistan’s blasphemy laws or at least to limit their devastating consequences, which particularly affect the country’s religious minorities. But until now, radical groups have always proved stronger – at times even killing politicians they deemed too outspoken.”

In a January 2017 report, Amnesty International said Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are “incompatible” with international human rights: “The majority of blasphemy cases are based on false accusations stemming from property issues or other personal or family vendettas, rather than genuine instances of blasphemy, and they inevitably lead to mob violence against the entire community.”

Meanwhile, the Interior Secretary has told the Islamabad High Court that Facebook administration has been blocking illegal blasphemous content at Pakistan’s request and 85% of such material on the site has already been removed.

A Christian teenager remains in prison for having allegedly posting a blasphemous picture to Facebook. He is said to be illiterate, and in February was refused bail while awaiting his trial.