A Christian man was booked for alleged blasphemy after being accused of texting an offensive message in Gujrat on Sunday, July 10.
Nadeem James, a 23-year-old resident of Yaqoobabad, fled his home after his family friend Yasir Bashir, 30, lodged a complaint in the Sarai Alamgir Police Station that Nadeem had sent him a blasphemous poem on WhatsApp.
“The police took away my wife Najma Bibi and my brother Shahbaz James’s wife Samreen Bibi, who was nursing one-and-half-years old son,” Faryad James told me. The police told local newspapers that the two women were being held in “protective custody” and could be released if an organization took responsibility for their safety.
Tensions rose in the area after the police detained the two women. Several Christians, including Nadeem James’s family and relatives, fled the area for the fear of their life. Locals say police has been called in from nearby precincts to keep the situation under control.
“Police detained our women and beat them to pressure the family”
“Yasir Bashir had involved some local clerics too, who went with him to the police station to help lodge a first information report,” Faryad said. “They are now demanding Nadeem’s immediate arrest, and warn of a backlash if he is not detained.”
“On July 4, I received text messages from cell phone number [withheld] which is owned by Nadeem Masih, son of James Masih, caste Christian,” Yasir said in his complaint. “I saw these messages today, on July 10.” He said the messages were offensive to his Muslim beliefs, and asked the police to “take action against Nadeem Masih and end this social vice.”
According to the BBC Urdu, Gujrat police say it was a forwarded message, and that the matter was being investigated. The conversation shows that a religious argument was going on between Yasir Bashir and Nadeem James and the message was part of the conversation. Due to the sensitivity of the issue, 200 police personnel have been deployed in the area and the FIR was sealed, police say.
“The district police officer and the district coordination officers have deployed a force to deal with any untoward situation,” according to Parvaiz Masih, who is a resident of nearby Fathers Colony, founded by the Catholic Church. “One person’s irresponsible act has exposed the entire community to a danger.”
Faryad said Yasir had been a family friend for more than 15 years. “He was a painter and worked with my brother Shahbaz. We don’t understand what exactly happened that things went so wrong, because we are unaware of the text message.”
On July 10, Faryad was at his home when he heard about the incident. By then, Nadeem had already fled. “I am unaware if any religious discussion took place between the two before such messages were sent,” he said. “In the evening, the police came and took our women in custody and beat them in order to pressure the family to reveal Nadeem’s whereabouts. Since then, they are in the police station. We have no idea where Nadeem is.”
Only about two weeks ago, a court sentenced two Christians to six years in prison in a case registered in August last year in the same district. In yet another case, registered about a year ago in Gujranwala (about 50 kilometers from Gujrat), a school principal was charged with blasphemy and a local anti-terrorism court sentenced him to death.
Many Christians fled for safety in Mandi Bahauddin in early May after an offensive video was allegedly found in a Christian man’s cellular phone. In Gujrat, a Christian woman, Sonia Gill, was accused of stoking religious hated by using an advertising banner as a dining mat. In early June, a Christian man, Usman Masih, was accused of sending an offensive text message on Facebook messenger.