Police have arrested a Christian on blasphemy charges for allegedly sharing a post on Facebook despite opposition from the Imam of the village mosque and other Muslims who said the post was not against Islam, his family said.
Wasim Masih said that Sargodha police registered a case against his younger brother Zaki Masih, 35, under Sections 295-A and 298 of the blasphemy statutes and arrested him on July 8, after a local Muslim named Muhammad Awais accused him of insulting Islam in a Facebook post.
Section 295-A relates to “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs” and is punishable with imprisonment of up to 10 years and fine, or both. Section 298 prescribes up to one year in prison and a fine, or both, for hurting religious sentiments.
“Zaki denies he shared the post, originally posted by a Muslim and critical of those who adulterated basic food items such as milk.
“My brother and I run a grocery shop in village Chak No 98 Shumaali in Sargodha. The complainant, Awais is a friend of some persons with whom we have a dispute over a piece of land that also led to a clash five years ago. We reconciled with the other party due to the intervention of the village elders but it seems they continued to nurture a grudge and trapped my brother in the fake case,” he said.
“The complainant and his friends tried to stoke tension in the village but they failed to muster support after the imam of the local mosque categorically refused to endorse the fake blasphemy allegation,” Wasim said.
However, the complainant filed a case against my brother and the police raided his shop and took him into custody, he added.
“The situation in our village was tense for a couple of days as a similar incident in a nearby village had caused several Christian families to flee their homes but fortunately our fellow villagers remained calm and told us not to worry as they knew the case was frivolous,” he said.
On June 30, tensions flared in Chak 49 Shumaali village of Sargodha after 45-year-old Haroon Shahzad on June 29, shared a post on his Facebook page that was deemed disrespectful to the Abrahamic tradition of animal sacrifice and likening Muslims to pagans.
Zaki’s lawyer Aneeqa Maria of The Voice Society told Kross Konnection that the case caused panic among the 250-300 Christian families living in the Chak 98 village but timely intervention by Muslim leaders helped in normalising the situation.
“Zaki is now in judicial custody and we will be filing for his bail this week. Section 298 is a bailable offense whereas in this case too, the police has charged the accused under Section 295-A on the complaint of a private person, which is against the rules of the Criminal Procedure Code,” she said.
According to Section 196 of the CrPC, only the provincial government and federal agencies can register a case under Section 295-A.
Blasphemy laws are often used as a weapon of revenge against both Muslims and non-Muslims to settle personal scores or to resolve disputes over money, property, or business. In a religiously sensitive country, a mere allegation is enough to provoke a mob to riot and lynch those accused of blasphemy.
At least 1,949 persons were accused under the blasphemy laws between 1987 and 2021, according to the Center for Social Justice. A large number of these blasphemy cases are still awaiting justice.
As of May 15, 57 cases of alleged blasphemy have been reported this year. Punjab Province tops the list with 28 cases, followed by Sindh Province with 16, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province with 8, and Kashmir Province with 5.
In January, the National Assembly passed the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill, increasing punishment for insulting Prophet Muhammad’s companions, wives, and family members from three years to 10 years and a fine of 1 million rupees.