For the past 30 years, blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad has been punishable by death in Pakistan. There have been 1,549 known cases of the most serious charges —either blasphemy against Muhammad or desecration of the Koran — according to Pakistan’s Centre for Social Justice.
Mob Justice for Blasphemers
In blasphemy cases, 75 accused people have been murdered before their trials. Many were killed in police custody or by mobs.
Religious Identity Of Those Accused (1987-2017)-
Source: Centre for Social Justice, Pakistan.
Mob Injustice on Pakistani Minorities
- Christian Couple
In 2014, a heinous crime was done in the name of blasphemy in the small town of Kot Radha Kishan, (a town named after two Hindu deities) which is almost 30 miles south of the city of Lahore.
The beautiful Kot Radha Kishan town has lush green fields and after every half a mile or so, there are tall smoking chimneys of brick kilns in every direction. Here, hundreds of thousands of bricks are stacked up in rows.
The Room Where Shahzad And Shama Took Shelter – Source: Original Photographer
Shahzad and Shama Maseeh, a happy Christian couple that worked in one of the kilns were accused of blasphemy, and they were burned alive by a mob in 2014. Rana Khalid, a local journalist, summarizes the events in his report of this killing. Rana states that “The couple were locked up in this room [shown above] so they could be protected from the mob.” But a fundamentalist local mosque cleric led an mob angry, and he ordered the angry mob to climb on top of the roof of this small shelter where the couple took shelter in. The mob broke their way in through the ceiling and dragged the couple out. Rana Khalid states that “The couple were brutally beaten by clubs and bricks and dragged by the angry men of the village to the brick kiln and were thrown inside.” The most horrific part of this tragedy is that Shama was four months pregnant.
The reason the couple was murdered is the blasphemy law. The mob believed that Shahzad and Shama had deliberately burned several pages of the Koran, along with some rubbish. To date, Shahzad’s family has denied that they burned the Quran and said that the couple were burning some of his father’s old documents.
• Christian Brothers
Qaisar and Amoon Ayub, Christian brothers from Lahore, were accused of posting offensive material against Islam on their website and were arrested in 2015. The allegations surfaced in 2011 when they were accused of posting disrespectful material on their website; however, the accused say that their website was not active since 2009.
Demonstration against Minorities Prosecution
The two brothers were held in Jhelum District Jail since their arrest. Additional Session Judge Javed Iqbal Bosal ordered them to be sentenced directly to prison for security reasons. The tragedy is amplified by the fact that Qaisar and his wife Amina have three children, and Amoon is married to Huma, a teacher at Lahore Cathedral School.
In Pakistan, blasphemy charges tend to trigger violent reactions among Islamists and fundamentalist clerics, who interfere with the proper operations of the court system, plan and attack the accused, and threaten judges. CLAAS, an inter-denominational organization dedicated to the victims of religious intolerance, has been representing the accused and now plans to appeal the sentence of these two brothers before the Lahore High Court. The reason is quite simple: unfortunately, “because of threats from hardliners, lower courts pass their responsibility to the higher court and then it takes years to prove the accused innocent,” said CLAAS-UK director Nasir Saeed.
- Ahmadi Men
It’s not only Christians who bear the brunt of the country’s controversial law. It has also been used to persecute Pakistan’s Ahmadi Muslims. The community is regarded by the government as a non-Muslim religious minority. By law, Ahmadis cannot call their places of worship mosques, recite from the Koran, or display their faith in public in any way.
Aslam Jameel – Source: Original Photographer
Asmal Jameel (not his real name), an Ahmadi farmer, was working in his wheat fields in the south of Punjab in 2009 when he was approached by a couple of local villagers who told him to run away and save himself. Aslam’s “crime” was that he had been accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad by a local imam, so a mob was after him. Aslam was accused by the cleric of prompting four Ahmadi boys to write the prophet’s name in a toilet. Aslam was in such distress that he waited until after dark before sneaking out of his back door and making a run. However, Aslam handed himself in at a local police station the next morning.
His case took almost two years to go to trial, and he spent six months in prison. In the final judgment, Aslam with his flushed face mentioned that ‘The judge was under immense pressure’ to rule against him by religious fundamentalists. The result? Thankfully, “The judge showed great courage to dismiss his case due to a lack of evidence despite the fact that the courtroom was full of clerics.”
Unfortunately, Aslam had lost everything when he was in jail and found his house looted and his livestock stolen. Finally, he sought asylum in Canada. Aslam in a grieving voice stated to BBC that “My family was threatened and harassed, my life and livelihood ruined, we had to abandon the village to save our lives.”
Shakeel Wajid – Source: Original Photographer
Shakeel Wajid (not his real name) another Ahmadi, was charged under the blasphemy laws. In his trembling voice, he mentioned how furious mobs gathered during his trial in court, which was very frightening for him and his family. What made the situation even more dangerous was that the lower court judges were under more intense pressure from religious extremists than the higher court judges because these hardline extremists gather in large numbers during the lower court hearings. Shakeel further explains that “The lower court judges have very poor security and have to look out for their own lives as well.”
After being found guilty under the false pretext of blasphemy, Shakeel spent two years in three different high-security prisons in Punjab. Shakeel describes how blasphemy prisoners are kept in separate, high-security barracks, often with mentally ill prisoners. Blasphemy accused individuals or prisoners are kept locked in their cells for their own safety and are often banned from eating with the other inmates as officials are afraid that non-blasphemy serving criminals may attempt to poison them.
After serving his prison term, Shakeel believed that he was exceptionally lucky that he was able to get his freedom back. But more worrying to him was to get his name cleared of the allegation.
In Pakistan, the label of the blasphemer is much worse than the fear of death. It’s considered such a serious accusation that no one wants to die with it. Every accused blasphemer wants his or her name to be cleared so his or her family can survive with dignity in the society.