Nine Pakistani Christians have been accused of committing blasphemy in the past three months.
In Pakistan, false accusations of blasphemy are widespread and often motivated by personal vendettas or religious hatred. Charges are highly inflammatory and can spark mob lynching, vigilante murders, and mass protests.
In many cases, blasphemy accusations have their roots in personal, professional, or business disputes where the false allegations are the final trump card for a member of Pakistan’s majority community. According to the most recent data available, religious minorities, who suffer greatly under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, account for 54% of all blasphemy accusations, despite making up just 3.6% of the population.
In the last three months, International Christian Concern (ICC) has documented an alarming rise in blasphemy accusations against Pakistan’s Christian community. At least 9 Christians, including two women and seven men, have been accused of committing blasphemy against Islam, its holy book, its holy prophet, or its sacred personages between December 2020 to February 2021.
On December 14, 2020, Arshad Masih, a 32-year-old Christian, was stabbed to death by Atif Ali, his Muslim coworker in Sheikhupura. Masih’s wife reported that Ali murdered her husband due to a promotion Masih received and his refusal to convert to Islam.
When police arrested Ali, he claimed that he killed Masih because he had blasphemed. When he was arrested, Ali asked the arresting officers if he could wash his hands as “he did not want the blood of a blasphemer on his hands anymore.”
On December 25, 2020, three Christians, including Azeem Mehmood, Abbas Gulshan, and Irfan Saleem, were falsely accused of committing blasphemy in the Narowal district. However, after an investigation by police, the three Christians were declared to be innocent.
On December 27, 2020, Pastor Raja Waris was arrested for committing blasphemy in Lahore. Pastor Waris was accused of posting an insulting image against Islam to social media. Hundreds of Christian families were forced to flee from their homes after a mob threatened to set fire to the Christian neighborhood where Pastor Waris resided.
On January 28, 2021, Tabitha Nazir Gill, a Christian nurse, was falsely accused of committing blasphemy while working at a hospital in Karachi. According to a local ICC source, the head nurse at Sobhraj Maternity Hospital issued orders that medical staff may not receive tips or deal with patients’ money. Gill reportedly reminded a Muslim coworker of these orders when she saw the coworker collect money from a patient.
In response, the Muslim coworker falsely accused Gill of committing blasphemy and incited violence against her colleague. Videos of hospital staff beating Gill surfaced on social media, and Gill was reportedly tied up with ropes, tortured, and locked in a room before being taken into police custody.
Police released Gill, handing her over to her family after a short investigation did not find any evidence that Gill had committed blasphemy. Gill and her family have since moved to an unknown location, fearing vigilante violence.
On February 3, 2021, a Christian tutor was accused of committing blasphemy against Islam in Quetta. The Christian tutor was accused after she refused to remove Christian images from her house, where mostly Muslim students were attending tutoring sessions. The tutor fled to another part of the country after a mob began making threats against her.
On February 13, 2021, Haroon Masih and Salamat Mansha were charged with violating Pakistan’s blasphemy law in Lahore. The pair were accused of making derogatory remarks against Islam, the Quran, and offending the religious sentiments of a Muslim while discussing Christianity in a public park.
According to the First Information Report (FIR # 61/21), the two Christians gave a Muslim a Christian book entitled “Water of Life” and discussed the prophets’ divinity and Jesus Christ. This discussion turned into an argument that ended with the Muslim accusing the Christians of making derogatory remarks against Islam.
According to the Center for Social Justice (CSJ), a human rights organization in Pakistan, at least 200 people were accused of committing blasphemy in 2020. Of that number, 75% were Muslims, 20% were Ahmadis, 3.5% were Christians, and the remaining 1.5% were from other religions or were unidentified.
Since 1987, at least 1,855 people have been charged under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. According to CSJ, the 200 accusations in 2020 show a significant acceleration in blasphemy accusations compared to the 19 accusations registered in 1987.