At least 10 Christian families in a village near Sheikhupura had to flee their homes after a Christian convert to Islam was accused of sending blasphemous messages on Facebook messenger on May 23.
Christians belonging to the Kot Imam Din village say the local landlords had told them to leave the village or face consequences after 30-year-old Usman was accused of blasphemy. Usman’s cousin Waris told me the community had been threatened. But the police said it had the situation under control. “The Christian community is safe and well protected, and a police contingent is present there,” said Safraz Khan Virk, the Sheikhupra district police officer.
Usman, who had converted to Islam 10 years ago and married a Muslim girl, was waiting at the village’s bus stop on May 23 when eight people of a Christian family beat him up, according to Waris. They had accused him of sharing inappropriately cropped pictures of their family’s women on Facebook. “One of them hit Usman with a brick and broke his head,” Waris told me. “We took him to the Tehsil Headquarters Hospital in Kala Shah Kaku, and were waiting for medico-legal documents so that we could file a complaint against the assailants, when I got a phone call from the police saying Usman was wanted in a blasphemy case.”
Usman had converted to Islam 10 years ago
Waris says he took Usman to the police station and handed him over. “I knew he had done no such thing.”
Usman had fallen in love with his classmate Farah Noor when they were in school, but their families did not approve of the relationship, according to human rights activist Khalid Shahzad. They were engaged, but Farah’s family broke the engagement and filed a criminal case against Usman. He spent seven months in jail.
“When he came back, Farah eloped with him and they got married under Muslim marital rites,” Usman’s cousin Waris said. “Her family could not take legal action, and since then, Usman has been leading his life as a Muslim.”
“We have found during our investigation that Usman had been blackmailing women, but we are still trying to ascertain if blasphemy was committed,” said the district police officer. “Usman’s laptop has been taken into custody and will be sent to the cybercrimes branch of the Punjab Forensic Science Laboratory.”
Usman rejects the allegation. The message had been sent in August, from a different profile. “The cybercrimes branch will ascertain if that message had been sent out by Usman.”
Meanwhile, on May 28, the alleged warning compelled many Christian families to leave the village in fear.
There have been a number of cases of mob attacks and attempted mob attacks on Christian houses after such allegations in the past.
According to Waris, the complainant in the blasphemy case is one Ahsan Asmat. Waris alleges he is a close friend of the men who beat his cousin up. “Why did Ahsan remain silent for so many months? Why did it take so long for police to register a case?”
The case, numbered 744/16, has been registered under Section 295-C of Pakistan Penal Code, in the Factory Area Police Station. The complainant alleges Usman “is sending blasphemous messages” on his mobile phone. “I warned him, but he does not stop. He also blackmails young women. It is requested that he be immediately arrested.” He says the messages were sent via Facebook messenger.
There are about 25 Christian families in the village, locals say. At least 10 of them have left their homes in fear of reprisal. This is the third incident this month in which police had to intervene to provide security to Christians.
On May 6, a police contingent was deployed for the protection of Christians in a village near Mandi Bahauddin after a Christian man was accused of blasphemy.
On May 16, a young Christian woman was accused of blasphemy for using an advertisement banner as a dining mat in Gujrat. A mob gathered outside her house, but she refused to flee, because she feared the angry men may attack other Christian houses in the neighborhood. There was no evidence that the banner had religious inscriptions on it.