An accusation of blasphemy in a Pakistani city earlier this month reportedly led scores of Christians to flee their homes in fear of violence.
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The situation reportedly unfolded after handwritten signs maligning the Prophet Muhammad and his wife were purportedly hung at mosques in the Green Town area, sparking outrage, according to Morning Star News.
Though the perpetrator is currently unknown, Christians were blamed, leading some of the 3,500 to 4,000 believers living in the area, under intense pressure and growing anger from Muslims, to flee.
Sanawar Balam, a local human rights committee member, said nearly half of the Christians in the area ran away from their homes, fearing they’d become the subject of violence and chaos.
“Though police were deployed in Christian neighborhoods, many Christian families left their homes due to fears of retribution,” Balam said.
Their angst is understandable when looking at what immediately unfolded due to the accusations, with angry protestors gathering and making demands.
“Muslim crowds, including members of Islamic extremist groups, blocked the main Sargodha-Faisalabad highway for hours on Sunday (July 16) after mosque announcements urged people in Sargodha to protest posters allegedly bearing derogatory caricatures and comments about Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, and his wife Aisha, that were pasted on mosque walls,” Morning Star News reported.
The posters also reportedly praised a recent Koran desecration in Sweden and offered commentary critical of animal sacrifice.
Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, a former provincial lawmaker and a Christian, told the outlet the situation in the area was already intense after two other Christians were recently charged with blasphemy.
But this new scenario adds further furor to the mix.
Chaudhry said the situation puts the “security of the entire community at risk.” Angry protestors gathered, blocked roads, and pledged to take the situation into their own hands if authorities didn’t act to find the responsible individuals.
“As word of the alleged blasphemy spread, hundreds of angry Muslims started congregating on the highway, raising fears of violence in Maryam Town,” he said. “Thankfully, the police responded in time, and a large contingent was deployed on all entry and exit points of the colony.”
Chaudhry said authorities are investigating what unfolded, and the crowds were dispersed.
At least 15 Christian men were arrested after the incident based on nothing more than their address being in Maryam Town, the location from which the suspects are believed to have come.
Chaudhry and others pondered whether the situation is a deliberate attempt to spark unrest aimed at Christians, and told Morning Star News he’s hopeful police will explore all angles.
“We told police and Islamic leaders that Christians already live in fear due to the abuse of blasphemy accusations,” he said. “It’s highly unlikely that anyone would commit such a heinous crime and put the entire community at risk, so we have no objection to a fair investigation.”
The situation comes as Pakistan is already reeling over a separate blasphemy case — one in which a young man could potentially lose his life.
As CBN’s Faithwire previously reported, the case involves Noman Masih, 22, who was recently handed the death penalty by a court in Bahawalpur, Pakistan, after being found guilty of blasphemy. Read more about his case here.
David Curry, CEO of Global Christian Relief, recently told CBN’s Faithwire, “Pakistan has some of the most difficult and stringent blasphemy laws in the world.”
He described these regulations as “vigilante-type laws” that open the door to false accusations against Christians and other groups, claims that can lead to the death penalty.
“[It] allows anybody to accuse somebody else of blasphemy within the Islamic law,” he said. “And the reason why it’s so problematic is because of the court system and the way these are adjudicated. You have somebody who’s making a claim that, in most cases, can’t be substantiated.”
Beyond that, Curry said the definition of “blasphemy” is overly broad, meaning any offense deemed problematic by the accuser can be brought to the court of law. Being a Christian, alone, can spark problems for some, and false claims are regularly perpetuated.
“Punishment in Pakistan is the death penalty, so there’s no proportionality to a particular situation,” he said. “Anybody can make a charge that can’t be validated.”
Learn more about blasphemy laws in Pakistan.
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