Blasphemy laws in Pakistan make yet another victim
Masih, an Arabic word meaning “messiah,” is a common family name among Pakistani Christians. One of them is Stephan Masih, a Pakistani man with a psychological disability. Sadly, Masih is one of too many Christians in Pakistan who has become a victim of the country’s blasphemy laws.
In March 2019, Masih and his family had a dispute with their Muslim neighbors. After the incident, a Muslim cleric accused him of committing blasphemy. The following day, an angry mob surrounded Masih’s home and set it on fire. Instead of arresting the assailants, local police filed a First Information Report against Masih for committing blasphemy and detained him.
Masih has remained in custody since June 2019 and has been denied medical treatment for his mental disabilities. The Lahore High Court was scheduled to hear an appeal on his bail application (which was previously postponed) last Wednesday.
Ahead of the hearing, a group of United Nations experts published a statement calling on the government of Pakistan to release Masih:
“We call on the authorities [in Pakistan] to urgently review Mr. Masih’s case, and release and drop all charges against him, and ensure protection for him and his family. (…) It is deeply alarming that a mere disagreement between neighbors could lead to the judicial harassment of an individual, based on his religious or other beliefs, and by the use of anti-blasphemy laws which may carry the death penalty.”
Section 295-A of the Pakistani penal code prohibits insulting “religious feelings.” Section 295-B states whoever “defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Qur’an” can be punished with life imprisonment. Section 295-C states that insults against the Prophet Muhammad and his family are punishable by life imprisonment or death.
These laws are often abused in Pakistan to settle unrelated disputes with non-Muslims. Pakistani Christians, who account for just 3 million of the country’s 207 million population, are common targets.