12/27/2020 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that hundreds of Pakistani Christian families from Charar, a neighborhood in Lahore, have fled their homes after a mob of Muslims threatened to set fire to their neighborhood. Local sources report that the mob threatened the Christians after a faith-based social media post was published by a local pastor.
“Pastor Raja Waris published a faith-based post on Facebook on December 22, which Muslims claim hurt their religious sentiments,” Saleem Khokhar, a displaced Christian from Charar, told ICC. “The pastor apologized for the post and the issue was resolved the next day.”
To date, no blasphemy charges have been filed against Pastor Waris for the offending social media post. However, Pastor Waris and his family have gone into hiding due to threats issued against them by local extremists. Even though the issue of the social media post has been resolved, a mob of hundreds of Muslims continues to protest against the Christians of Charar. According to locals, the mob has demanded that Pastor Waris be beheaded for publishing the offending post.
“The situation turned dangerous when someone found out the Muslims were planning to set fire to the houses of Christians,” Khokhar told ICC. “This forced the Christians to flee the neighborhood.”
Police have been deployed to Charar to keep the mob’s protests from turning violent. Despite the police presence, many Christians have stayed away from the neighborhood and sought shelter with friends and relatives.
“This is supposed to be a time of joy and celebration,” Khokhar told ICC. “But we are out of our homes and begging our relatives and friends to protect and feed us. None of us are feeling good about this situation.”
In Pakistan, false accusations of blasphemy are widespread and often motivated by personal vendettas or religious hatred. Accusations are highly inflammatory and have the potential to spark mob lynchings, vigilante murders, and mass protests.
Since Pakistan added Section 295-B and 295-C to the country’s blasphemy laws in 1987, the number of blasphemy accusations has skyrocketed. Between 1987 and 2017, 1,534 individuals in Pakistan have been accused of blasphemy. Out of that 1,534, 829 accusations (54%) were made against religious minorities. With Christians only making up 1.6% of Pakistan’s total population, the 238 accusations (15.5%) made against Christians are highly disproportionate.
Currently, 24 Christians are imprisoned on blasphemy charges in Pakistan. These 24 Christians are defendants in 21 blasphemy cases represented at various levels of the judicial process in Pakistan.
ICC’s Regional Manager, William Stark, said, “We here at International Christian Concern are concerned by the situation in Charar. We call on the Pakistani authorities to protect the homes of Charar’s Christians. No one should be forced to flee their home because of a social media post. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws must not be misused to justify mob violence. Too often these laws have been a tool in the hands of extremists seeking to stir up religiously motivated violence against minority communities.”