Two Christian boys were charged with blaspheming the prophet Muhammad in Lahore. Based on Section 295-C of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, this calls for the death penalty.
Babar Sandhu Masih was disrupted by a disturbance after his lunch last Thursday. He witnessed his neighbour, policeman Zahid Sohail, beating his son, 18-year old Adil and another 14 year-old Christian boy, Simon Nadeem Masih.
“Sohail initially alleged that he was walking past the two boys when he overheard them ‘disrespecting’ prophet Muhammad and then laughing over it” Masih said. “He started beating Simon, and when Adil tried to save him, Sohail attacked him too. Both boys flatly denied Sohail’s allegation and said they had said nothing that involved a mention of the Muslim prophet. When local elders of the neighborhood asked Sohail to substantiate his accusation, he failed to satisfy them and left”.
Masih, a father of four, reported that Race Course police station officers raided his house later that evening and arrested Adil. They also took Simon into custody, saying that Sohail had filed a claim against the two boys under blasphemy statutes.
“We were shocked to learn the contents of the First Information Report [FIR] in which Sohail alleged that Simon had called a puppy ‘Muhammad Ali,’ and both boys then joked about it” Masih said. “No one in our street has dogs, and neither was there a puppy in the street when this incident took place. Sohail cooked up a false accusation against our children after failing to convince the locals about his earlier allegation. He does not have a good reputation in the locality, which is why many locals did not take his allegation seriously. Our Muslim neighbours have known us for years, and they know we would never indulge in anything that could hurt their religious sentiments” he added.
As a result of the disturbance, Masih’s wife has suffered two strokes.
Muhammad Ali is a common name in Pakistan, the first name attributed to Islam’s prophet and the last to Hazrat Ali, Muhammad’s son-in-law and the fourth caliph. At least 500 Christian families live in the Qurban Lines neighborhood. According to witness accounts, there had been no religious tension in the area in years.
Several people have been lynched over false accusations of blasphemy in Pakistan. According to the Lahore-based Center for Social Justice and People’s Commission for Minorities Rights (PCMR), there were at least 57 reported cases this year; another four suspects were lynched or extrajudicially killed.
Retired Justice Nasira Javaid Iqbal, the patron-in-chief of PCMR, released a statement, urging the government to take action against such violence: “The blasphemy laws have been consistently misused to settle personal disputes, persecute minority groups, and incite mob violence and hatred,” she said in a press statement. “We demand prompt action and a collective effort by the government to address these human rights violations”.