Two Pakistani Christian teenagers have been arrested on charges of blasphemy.
The arrests took place in Punjab province, according to persecution watchdog International Christian Concern. According to those close to the young men, the charges have been fabricated by local authorities.
According to reports, 19-year-old Sunny Mushtaq and 17-year-old Noman Asghar left home the evening of June 29 to go and play cricket and did not return.
Police eventually disclosed that Mushtaq and Asghar had been accused of receiving blasphemous sketches of the Prophet Muhammad via the messaging app, WhatsApp.
In addition, police said that they obtained printouts of the blasphemous sketches that were supposedly found on Sunny’s person.
Members of Mushtaq’s family have fiercely denied the allegations.
“The police have generated this story against Sunny,” they said.
While it has been confirmed that the pair did recieve blasphemous images on Whatsapp, they were reportedly sent them by a Muslim man named Bilal Ahmad.
No police action has been taken against Ahmad at this time — yet another example of the religious discrimination and unfair treatment experienced by Pakistani Christians on a daily basis.
“Sunny is very popular in the locality because of his outstanding performances playing cricket,” Raza Mushtaq, Sunny Mushtaq’s brother, told ICC.
“However, he often complained of being mistreated by Muslim players. Because of this, we used to suggest that he quit playing cricket. I even had to quit playing cricket with Muslims years back because I was experiencing the same.”
Blasphemy laws used to “settle personal scores.”
Yousaf Gill, Director of Umeed Partnership Pakistan, said that the case was
“another example of misuse of the blasphemy laws to settle personal scores against Christians.”
“For many years, human right defenders have been highlighting the misuse of blasphemy laws,” Gill continued. “However, authorities have not paid any attention and therefore Christians are suffering.”
Gill urged the authorities to “conduct a fair investigation into the allegation and protect the Christians in police custody.”
ICC’s Regional Manager, William Stark, said that these types of false allegations are “tragically common in Pakistan, especially against the country’s vulnerable Christian population.”
“ICC express grave concern for both Sunny and Noman as they are now in a life and death struggle to prove their innocence,” he added. “Christians are too often forced to pay a high price for such accusations. Pakistan must take steps to curb the widespread abuse of these deadly laws.”