The Christian teenagers identified as Adil Baber and Simon Masih have been accused of blasphemy in Lahore. The allegations were levelled against them by the Police constable Zahid Sohail, soon after he had indulged in a fight with the young accusers on the 18th of May.
According to the registered First Information Report (FIR) No 902/23, Sohail alleged that the boys uttered blasphemous remarks against the Holy name of the Prophet Muhammad while Sohail was walking to the mosque for prayer in the same street. Adil Baber is eighteen years old, and Simon Masih is fourteen years old.
The families of the accused vehemently deny the allegations, asserting that they are a result of a personal dispute between the boys and Sohail, as they had a previous altercation. Moreover, they also argue that during the initial confrontation, witnesses present at the scene demanded evidence to substantiate the claims, but none was reportedly provided at the time of the arrest.
While demanding a free trial of the digital news platform, the family urges authorities to address their concerns about the fairness and objectivity of the investigation process, with questions surrounding the potential bias given that the accuser is a police officer.
As per the statistics shared by the Center for Social Justice (CSJ) and Peoples’ Commission for Minorities Rights (PCMR), at least 57 cases of alleged blasphemy have been registered in Pakistan from January to May 2023. The highest number of blasphemy cases, 28 in total, were reported in Punjab. Sindh followed with 16 cases, while Khyber Pakhtunkhwa recorded eight cases, and Azad Jammu and Kashmir reported five.
Human Rights Activist Joseph Jansen condemning the incident, added that the increase in the misuse of the blasphemy laws and its use as a retaliation act to fix personal disputes must be stopped, as numerous people languish in prisons for years till the time courts realize the miscarriage of justice and set them free.
A fair trial is the right of every citizen guaranteed in the constitution of Pakistan, and the protection of accusers until proven guilty is the responsibility of the state. He further asked for a proactive response from the authorities to safeguard the young boys and their families during and after the legal proceedings, as such fabricated accusations lead to the climate of mob violence and vigilante justice targeting religious minorities.
Suggesting the government and authorities, he stressed on the engagement of all-important stakeholders to set up a platform for the generation of collective wisdom, which can preempt further incidents of this nature.
The Head of Voice of Justice Pakistan also expressed that the authorities take serious action against individuals making baseless allegations for personal gains over personal vendettas, as the blasphemy laws significantly impact the religious faith communities, particularly curbing their right to speech, life, and freedom of religion.
He calls upon the government to uphold the rule of law and ensure the safety and protection of all individuals, regardless of their religious beliefs.
The 2023 annual report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom underscores the increasing helplessness of religious minorities towards the prosecution and violence which is based on the wrong blasphemy allegations in society and reported it as a vital contributor to the intolerance for religious diversity in the country. Blasphemy cases continue to pose a significant threat to religious freedom, often accompanied by mob violence, stated the report
The Commission report also underlines the weaponization of blasphemy laws in Pakistan by mainstream politicians to gain political mileage against each other’s rivals. The report mentioned that, the new government under Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif also levelled blasphemy allegations against Former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his cabinet members, to make them a target.
Pointing to the vulnerability of religious minorities, the report cited the case of Notan Lal as an example, who was the owner and Principal of a school in Ghotki, Sindh, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly attempting blasphemy. The report also highlights the case of Muhammad Mushtaq, a mentally ill man accused of burning the Holy Scripture, who was stoned to death by an angry mob in Punjab Province. These incidents quoted in the report illustrate the ongoing challenges faced by religious minorities last year and surface the need for the greater protection of religious freedom in Pakistan.
International Religious Freedom also highlights the weaponization of blasphemy laws in Pakistan by the new government under Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif. Former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his cabinet members were targeted using these laws. Moreover, the report notes that religious minorities are particularly vulnerable to prosecution and violence based on blasphemy allegations in a society that is becoming increasingly intolerant of religious diversity. Blasphemy cases continue to pose a significant threat to religious freedom, often accompanied by mob violence.
The case of Notan Lal, the owner and principal of a school in Ghotki, Sindh, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly insulting the Prophet, is cited as an example. The report also highlights the case of Muhammad Mushtaq, a mentally ill man accused of burning the Qur’an, who was stoned to death by an angry mob in Punjab Province. These incidents illustrate the ongoing challenges faced by religious minorities and the need for greater protection of religious freedom in Pakistan.
Human Rights Defender Zara Amoon Gill, brought to the notice the increase in the misapplication and inappropriate use of this law as a threat and suppressing tool for marginalized sections of the society, by the radicals clearly reflects upon the rising fire of extremism in the country.
Responding to the documentation and reporting of such cases by the global Human rights watchdogs, she urged the authorities to wisely respond to this maximizing issue with considerable and proactive measures, by using both the ideological and repressive state apparatuses to further develop a softer image of the country on the global fronts.
In addition, she suggested that a collective effort is required to overcome the challenges that are erupted due to the raging extremism in the nation. We all as citizens share equal responsibility to play our individual roles in social change.
“As a responsible and tolerant citizen, we must discourage the social injustice rooted in radicalism and leading to anarchism”, she quoted
According to data collected by the Center for Social Justice, since 1994, at least 92 individuals have lost their lives in incidents related to religious offences. Among the victims, 50 were Muslims, 23 were Christians, 14 were Ahmadis, two were Hindus, one was Buddhist, and the religious affiliation of two individuals could not be determined. These statistics shed light on the ongoing prevalence of blasphemy accusations and the grave consequences they can have on individuals in Pakistan.