A Christian sanitary worker is facing blasphemy charges for allegedly posting and sharing sacrilegious images on social media, his father said.
Saleem Masih said that officials of the Federal Investigation Agency’s Cybercrime Wing took his son Ishtiaq Saleem, a 31-year-old father of one child, into custody in Islamabad on Nov 29, 2022. He added that the family decided to keep the news of the arrest secret due to security concerns.
“My son is a sensible man and has never indulged in such acts,” Masih said. “Ishtiaq says that someone had shared the sacrilegious images in a social media group that inadvertently got downloaded to his phone. He says he hasn’t posted or shared those images anywhere because he didn’t even realize they were there until the time he was arrested by the FIA officials,” he added.
The complainant, Muhammad Imran, alleged that Ishtiaq posted and shared blasphemous images on WhatsApp and Facebook. The FIA subsequently registered a First Information Report (FIR No. 187/2022) against Saleem under Section 295-C of Pakistan’s blasphemy statutes, prohibiting disrespect of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and punishable by death; Section 295-B, against defiling the Holy Quran and punishable by imprisonment for life and fine; and Section 295-A, against deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings and punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine.
He was also charged under Section 298-A, against defiling names of wives, family members, and companions of Islam’s prophet; Section 109, against abetment to a crime; and Section 11 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016, against the dissemination of hate speech.
Claiming that “sufficient incriminating evidence” was recovered from Saleem’s phone, the FIR suggests that Ishtiaq was arrested and booked after an investigation on the complaint by Imran, though Masih said the family learned of the case only after the arrest.
“It is only now that we have shared this news to seek support for him as well as security for our family,” said Masih, a sanitation worker at Islamabad’s Capital Development Authority.
According to Masih, his son remained in FIA custody for two days and was then moved to Adiyala Central Prison in Rawalpindi on judicial remand.
Ishtiaq worked for over four months as sanitation worker without getting paid, Masih said. Non-payment of salaries is a chronic challenge facing Christian sanitation workers in Islamabad and other cities of Pakistan, forcing them into abject poverty and making them vulnerable to loan sharks.
“He was very disturbed due to non-payment of his salary, but I’d encourage him to remain steadfast,” Masih said. “Such was his fate that his pending salary was released the day after his arrest.”
Joseph Jansen, president of the Voice of Justice, said that Pakistani minorities live in perpetual fear due to the extensive use of blasphemy laws.
“A growing number of accusations and arrests have been linked to alleged violations of the electronic crimes law, but the charge of blasphemy is often included in cases involving religious minorities,” Jansen said. “It is important to assess the intentions of the accused before they are booked under a charge as serious as blasphemy.”
Several people have been lynched or killed unlawfully over false accusations of blasphemy in Pakistan. According to the Lahore-based Center for Social Justice, 1,949 cases of people accused of blasphemy were registered in Pakistan between 1987 and 2021, including 928 Muslims, 643 Ahmadis, 281 Christians, 42 Hindus, and 55 of unknown faith. Of these, 84 people were killed out of court before a final verdict was reached.