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PAKISTAN: Punjab police save teenage Christian from lynching

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

PAKISTAN: Punjab police save teenage Christian from lynching

Though incidents of accusation of blasphemy are on the rise, it is heartening to note that the police attitude has improved remarkably in handling such cases. Thanks to the incessant and relentless lobbying and advocacy by civil society and rights organizations, the tide has begun to turn in favor of marginalized religious minorities, especially in cases where blasphemy is alleged. In a recent example, the police in Kasur District have taken a 16-year boy in safe custody to protect him from mob violence, customary in almost all cases where blasphemy is alleged. The teenage Christian boy, Nabeel Masih, has been accused of sharing and liking a blasphemous picture of Islam’s holiest site Khan-e Kaaba, in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

Masih, resident of Chak 66, Dina Nath Village, Kasur District of Punjab Province, 48 km southwest of Lahore, was friends with a Muslim, Mr. Akhtat Ali. On September 18, Ali, along with his friends Bakht Khan and Saddam opened Nabeel Masih's Facebook profile; there was a picture therein, allegedly posted and liked by Nabeel, where the Kaaba was defamed and disrespected. The picture was photo-shopped to show the picture of a pig atop Khan-e Kaaba. Ali immediately filed a case of blasphemy at Police Station Bhai Pheru.

On the same day, Nabeel was arrested and charged under Pakistan’s infamous Blasphemy law, under Section 295/ 295A of Pakistan’s Penal Code. The police at Bhai Peru have not submitted the Initial Investigation Report to the Magistrate’s Court while Masih has been in custody. Muhammad Hussain, the investigating police officer (IO), confirmed the arrest and told media that Masih was lodged in a police cell.

According to the Inspector Shahbaz Ahmad Dogar, Station House Officer (SHO) of the Police Station in Phoolnagar, Masih has been sent to judicial remand right away, in order to save him from the extrajudicial killing or any harm. Incidentally, the police have taken down the offensive image from the Facebook page to stem escalation of violence in the area.

According to a team investigating the matter it is a mischief of Masih’s friends that shared a derogatory picture of Holy Kabba with his friends, to show them that what somebody has done to the sacred place, whereas some of Masih’s friends have held him responsible.

Massih works at a local cooking oil factory; his father is a worker at a poultry farm and is about to retire. One of Nabeel’s brothers, Wakeel, got seriously injured few months ago in the monsoon season. He was suffered burns due to electric shock at his workplace. Muslim co-workers and the in-charge forced him to clean an area under the transformers and he got severe shock and is lucky to have survived.

The team investigating the case has also observed that Masih is a reasonable boy; a teenager, he is well behaved and respectful when compared to boys of his age. He never mocked or made fun of anyone’s religion or even otherwise he has never done any mischief to hurt the feelings of others.

In the absence of the rule of law, mob violence in cases of blasphemy is sadly a common occurrence in Pakistan. In 2014, a mob in Gujranwala District of Punjab burned down houses of the Ahmadi community after blasphemous material was allegedly posted by an Ahmadi youth on the social networking website Facebook. A woman and her two children were burnt to death by the charged mob. As of now, Pakistan has 19 convicts on death row for blasphemy.

Extremist vigilantes see it as their duty to punish the person suspected of blasphemy. Extremists have murdered over fifty people accused of blasphemy on their release from custody (at least 15 of them Christians). Two judges have also been murdered. Even lawyers who defend those accused of blasphemy face threats.

Minority Rights Group International, a watchdog organization, has ranked Pakistan as the world’s top country for major increase in threats to minorities since 2007. The Group also lists Pakistan as seventh on the list of 10 most dangerous countries for minorities, after Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Myanmar, and Congo.

The civil society and rights organizations have played an active role in calling for the repeal of the draconian blasphemy law and have been proactively highlighting cases of abuse of the law. In several cases, the law has been used as an excuse to deprive the minority community of their property and assets. Several NGOs are working for the uplift and protection of the minority in Pakistan. They also hold sensitization workshops specifically designed for the law enforcement agencies particularly the police. The results in Punjab Province, where most of the cases of blasphemy occur, are encouraging.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) sees the change in police attitude as a step in the right direction by the State to ensure rights, liberty and lives of minorities are protected and is pleased to see that the hard work of civil society in this regard has finally borne fruit.

The investigation officials of Punjab police should be applauded for their effort in controlling the potentially lethal situation while ensuring that the victim’s live is saved. It is hoped that the police shall continue to act responsibly and neutrally in all such cases.
It is also hoped that one day the accused in such cases can be protected without their having to be imprisoned. This, however, will take a transformation in the operation of justice institutions. Once institutions begin to uphold justice, mob violence will naturally die down.

# # #

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) works towards the radical rethinking and fundamental redesigning of justice institutions in order to protect and promote human rights in Asia. Established in 1984, the Hong Kong based organisation is a Laureate of the Right Livelihood Award, 2014.

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