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In Rare Action, Police in Pakistan Save Christian Couple Accused of Blasphemy from Mob Attack

( [email protected] ) Jul 07, 2015 11:39 AM EDT
Police in Pakistan generally fail to step in and save Christians from attacks by Muslims thanks to the country’s hardline blasphemy laws. However, the police have broken tradition and intervened this time.
Pakistani human rights activists condemn the killing of the Christian couple for alleged blasphemy during a demonstration in Islamabad, Pakistan, in November. B.K. Bangash/AP

Police in Pakistan generally fail to step in and save Christians from attacks by Muslims thanks to the country's hardline blasphemy laws. However, the police have broken tradition and intervened this time.

According to a report from Reuters, Pakistani police have arrested a Muslim cleric who was accused of leading a mob trying to kill a Christian couple for supposedly destroying the Koran in the city of Lahore. The arrest is highly unusual, given that those accused of blasphemy in Pakistan are sometimes killed on the spot.

"I told him I would not register a case because no blasphemy has been committed," police officer Sohail Zaffar Chattha said in a telephone interview. "But I have registered a case against the cleric and 400 others for inciting violence and endangering the lives of the couple."

Reuters reported that the couple, Owais Masih and his wife, was attacked by about 500 people after a neighbor accused them of sleeping on a plastic sheet with verses of the Koran written on it. Police intervened and took the couple to an undisclosed location.

"The mob meant business. They wanted to kill them right there," Chattha said. "And all because they are poor, illiterate people who didn't realize that a line from the Koran was written on a sheet they had purchased."

Pakistan, which is mostly Muslim, punishes blasphemy by death. However, Reuters reported that such charges are hard to fight because the law fails to clearly outline what is considered blasphemous.

"Even presenting the evidence in court can sometimes itself be considered a fresh infringement," Reuters wrote. "Last year, a British man with a history of mental health illness was sentenced to death for blasphemy."

According to a report from Catholic News Agency, the attack took place in the village of Makki in Punjab province on June 30. Christian human rights lawyer Nadeem Anthony praised the police intervention, adding that continued enforcement would discourage "the elements who take the law into their own hands."

"The Legal Evangelical Association Department, an interdenominational Pakistan-based Christian human rights NGO, on July 2 described Pakistan's anti-blasphemy laws as 'continually misused' against 'the poor and defenseless Christians of Pakistan,'" Catholic News Agency wrote.

Reuters reported that Christians make up 4 percent of Pakistan's population. Christians and other minority groups in the country have complained that the state fails to protect them from violence.

"Many of those accused of blasphemy are murdered, and advocates of changing the law are also targeted by violence," Catholic News Agency wrote. "In 2011 the Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, a Muslim critic of the blasphemy laws, was assassinated. Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic and the only Christian in Pakistan's cabinet, was also assassinated the same year by militant supporters of the blasphemy laws."


Tags : Pakistan, Christian persecution, Christian persecution Pakistan, Christians vs. Muslims Pakistan, Pakistan police, Pakistan Punjab province, Lahore, Owais Masih, Pakistani Christians, Pakistani minorities, Pakistan blasphemy laws, blasphemy, blasphemy laws, human rights Pakistan