Four days after mobs attacked Christian neighborhoods in Jaranwala tehsil of Faisalabad district, burning churches and ransacking homes and businesses, a similar outrage over blasphemy allegations was narrowly averted in Sahiwal on Sunday, sources said.
Bishop Abraham Daniel of the Sahiwal Baptist church said that tensions escalated in 186/9-L village when 27-year-old Christian, Ehsaan Shan Masih uploaded a video on social media containing blasphemous images that had triggered the attacks in Jaranwala on August 16.
Ehsaan, a laborer and father of two, came across a video related to the Jaranwala attacks on social media and shared it on his TikTok account.
“The video quickly went viral on social media, prompting local leaders of the Islamist extremist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan to call for protests against the alleged blasphemy. Christians in several areas feared the possibility of riots similar to those in Jaranwala,” said Daniel.
Fortunately, timely intervention by the police saved the lives and properties of Christians.
“TLP activists staged a sit-in protest and demanded the registration of a case against Ehsaan for sharing blasphemous content. Sensing the gravity of the situation, the police took Ehsaan’s entire family into protective custody.
“During the investigation, it was confirmed that Ehsaan had indeed uploaded the video, which was still present in his phone gallery. As a result, the police charged Ehsaan under Sections 295-A and 295-B, Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997, and Section 11 of the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act 2016, and he was formally arrested and taken to jail on judicial remand.
The church leader said that the protesters pressured the police to add Section 295-C to the First Information Report (FIR), which deals with blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad and carries the death penalty. Luckily, this section was not added, allowing for the possibility of bail at a later stage.
Bishop Abraham Daniel expressed relief that a major crisis was averted due to the timely action of the police. However, he urged Christians to use social media responsibly, as even unintentionally sharing derogatory content could put the entire community at risk.
He emphasized the need for caution and awareness of the law, stating that ignorance of the law is not an excuse. He also called for prayers for Ehsaan’s early release.
Former human rights minister for Punjab, Ejaz Alam Augustine echoed the church leader’s appeal, saying that the community members must realize the consequences of sharing any content that can spark religious tensions.
“Sahiwal division is my constituency so naturally I am very concerned about the situation there. Fortunately, the police’s timely action has prevented another Jaranwala from taking place,” he said.
The former minister said that had the Jaranwala police acted on time, the Christians there would not have suffered losses.
“We demand complete protection of our community. The government should investigate the Jaranwala incident without prejudice and make its findings public,” he said.
On Wednesday, a violent mob of hundreds ransacked and torched various churches and attacked the residences of members of the Christian community after some locals alleged that several desecrated pages of the Quran had been found near a house at Cinema Chowk in Jaranwala, where two Christian brothers resided.
The violence drew condemnation from domestic and international human rights groups.
Amnesty International called for the repeal of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
Under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, anyone found guilty of insulting Islam or Islamic religious figures can be sentenced to death. While authorities have yet to carry out a death sentence for blasphemy, often just an accusation can incite mobs to violence, lynchings, and killings.
Rghts groups say blasphemy allegations have been used to intimidate religious minorities and settle personal scores.
Vedant Patel, a spokesperson for the US State Department, urged Pakistan to conduct a full investigation. “We support peaceful freedom of expression and the right to freedom of religion and belief for everybody,” he said in Washington on Wednesday.