Over 200 Christians are in prison in Pakistan, due to the nation’s laws on blasphemy
There are about 220 Christians in prison in Pakistan for having blasphemed against the prophet Mohammed, according to a report by the ACS- Italy foundation. The case of Asia Bibi is the most representative.
ACS-Italy visited Pakistan recently and with the help of the Pakistani Episcopal Conference’s National Commission for Justice and Peace, confirmed that there are more than 200 Christians imprisoned for blasphemy.
Cecil Chaudhry, the director of the National Commission of Justice and Peace, noted that judges usually wait for a long time before coming to a decision because they fear being attacked by Islamist radicals if they judge wrongly.
Pakistan’s blasphemy law states that any kind of insult against the prophet Mohammed or against the Islam religion is a crime, but in many cases, the government uses this law to put pressure on Christian minorities.
Fr. Emmanuel Yousaf, the president of the commission, illustrated this reality with an example. He recalled that in 2013 attackers burn down 200 houses and two churches in the Saint John quarter in Lahore. The area is predominantly Christian.
According to the Muslim tribunal, the houses were attacked and the churches burnt, because sometime earlier, a Christian man called Sawan Masif blasphemed against Mohammed. The violent response by the Islamic extremists was a retaliation for the alleged blasphemy.
“In fact, the Muslim man behind the attack just wanted to get possession of the land of the Christian, because it was near to a factory. Sawan Masif is probably innocent,” according to ACS Italy.
83 people were detained in the attack, and they were released after being found guilty. Sawan is still in prison and waiting for judgement to be pronounced. The judicial proceedings have been adjourned time and time again. The next hearing will be held on the 27th of February.
The Commission of Justice and Peace also looks out for those Christians who were Muslims before their conversion. While state laws do not prohibit their conversion, the families of converts treat them as outcasts because of their new found faith.