In Punjab the mere whiff of a rumour of blasphemy cases has people running for cover. This has been happening in Dina Nath, a Kasur neighbourhood located about 70km from Lahore. Many people from the roughly 300 Christian households in the area have started leaving after a man complained to the police that a 16-year-old ghee factory worker, who happens to be illiterate, was accused of “liking” and “sharing” a Facebook post that he and his friends found objectionable. The boy’s family says, however, that he had intended to condemn the post, not champion it.
“On September 18, I was with my friends Bakht Khan and Saddam,” said the application submitted by complainant Akhtar Ali at Phoolnagar police station. “… We took our friend Waqar’s cell phone and started looking [at] pictures of his various friends on Facebook. But when we opened the ID of N[…] Masih, there was a picture posted…” Akhtar Ali claimed that it was about a religious icon that he and his friends felt had been disrespected.
That same day, then, Sunday, at around 3pm several police vans raided N’s house and arrested him. N’s cousin, Imran, 24, told The Friday Times that N had no problems with Muslims. He said that N had “… clearly stated that he did not intend to hurt but to condemn the post.”
Human rights activist Khalid Shahzad points to the double standard when it comes to the State’s handling of these cases. When it comes to prosecuting Christians it cracks down instantly, but when it comes to hauling up people who commit crimes against them, it is notoriously slow to respond
Supreme Court lawyer Saif-ul-Malook has worked on the late governor Salmaan Taseer’s murder case, and is now representing Asia Bibi, a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death. He told TFT that single click or sharing doesn’t clearly tell if N actually wanted to commit blasphemy. There is a need to see if he has been doing this in the past to ascertain his intention. N has been charged under sections 295 and 295A that require demonstration of bad intent but in this case it seems N is suspected of a crime which he did not intend to commit.
Human rights activist Khalid Shahzad points to the double standard when it comes to the State’s handling of these cases. When it comes to prosecuting Christians it cracks down instantly, but when it comes to hauling up people who commit crimes against them, it is notoriously slow to respond. He has been following the N case and compared it to another one on Friday when dozens of men beat Christian men and their women in a remote village in Faisalabad. “I am trying to my best to get an FIR registered but despite all our efforts we have been unsuccessful,” he said. “But in [N’s case], where we are not sure if the boy really wanted to commit the crime, which we believe is heinous as well, within hours the State machinery registered the complaint and arrested the suspect. This difference shows the partiality on the part of the state.”
Nonetheless, families have started to leave the area over fear of reprisal. Memories of the Lahore Joseph Colony in 2013 are still fresh. There have been many instances of Christian neighbourhoods being attacked over hearsay, with Muslim mobs looting, ransacking and burning down homes in reaction. In 2009, more than 100 Christain houses were set on fire.
Pastor Samuel who visits the area regularly to visit two sisters, told TFT he went on Sunday night and found that matters were under control. “However, many of the Christians have left due to fear of security,” he added. For whatever it is worth, the Phoolnagar police station head Shahbaz Ahmed Dogar said that the law and order was under control in the area. “There was no announcement from mosque loudspeakers or any gathering of people,” he said. “Those who have left the area have taken only a precautionary measure and I would encourage that they return to their homes.”