By Ryan Mauro, The Clarion Project
Prosecutions based on blasphemy laws continue to skyrocket in Pakistan. Four evangelical Christians have just been arrested, shortly following the pressing of blasphemy charges against 86 lawyers. These incidents come after the May 7 murder of a defense attorney whose client was charged with blasphemy.
International Christian Concern reports that the four Christians, consisting of three women and a pastor, were arrested on May 18 after they distributed religious material at a railway station. A group of radical Muslims confronted them, at which point the police intervened and arrested the Christians and charged them with blasphemy.
An eyewitness says that hundreds of Islamists assembled after the Christians were taken away and “attacked” the local Christians in the city of Mirpus Kas. They also staged protests demanding their prosecution and that the police transfer custody to the “faithful” to be dealt with.
The complaint was filed by a leader of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, another name for Sipah-e-Sahabah, which is formally banned in Pakistan. The group has carried out dozens of attacks on Shiites and is linked to Al Qaeda, but is still permitted to participate in elections and its leader even won a seat in parliament.
The charges stem from a protest by the lawyers against a senior police official named Umar Daraz earlier this month. The lawyers were upset because seven police officers were arrested for illegally arresting one of their colleagues and physically abusing him, but Daraz was left unscathed.
During the protest, the lawyers called Daraz a dog and referred to him by his first name, Umar. Again, a member of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, exploited Pakistan’s blasphemy law. He said that the lawyers defamed Islam by using Daraz’s first name because it is also the first name of the Second Caliph. As ridiculous as that is, charges were filed on May 13.
The charges come only weeks after defense attorney Rashid Rehman was murdered on May 7. Rehman’s client was Junaid Hafeez, a poet and university lecturer with liberal views. A student that belongs to a branch of the radical Jamaat-e-Islami group filed a complaint, accusing him of insulting the Prophet Mohammed on Facebook but provided no evidence. That didn’t stop the police from filing charges.
Rehman was aware that this could be his last client. He spoke of getting threats and said he felt he was “walking into the jaws of death.” His prediction came true on May 7 when two gunmen walked into his office and shot him to death.
Cases such as these are increasingly common in Pakistan. According to a Pakistani think tank, there was only a single blasphemy case in 2001. In 2011, there were 80. The number continues to rise with Christians and other minorities suffering disproportionately.
William Stark, regional manager for International Christian Concern, says 36 people charged with blasphemy last year in Pakistan. Despite only being 2% of the population, one-third of the defendants were Christian (a dozen). All but six of the defendants were minorities.
Three more Christians were charged with blasphemy in recent months. On April 4, a Christian couple was sentenced to death for allegedly sending texts that defamed Islam. On March 27, a Christian was sentenced to death for supposedly insulting the Prophet Mohammed during a drunken argument with a Muslim neighbor. After the incident, local clerics instigated Muslims to burn about 100 Christian homes, damage two churches and destroy dozens of Bibles.
Christian girls are especially victimized by the Islamist oppression in Pakistan. A new study concludes that about 1,000 Christian and Hindu girls are kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam every single year in Pakistan.
The case of Asia Bibi, a mother of five that converted from Islam to Christianity, seems to have been forgotten by the media. The appeal of her death sentence for blasphemy has been delayed yet again.
Bibi converted to Christianity and was pressured by Muslim co-workers to revert back to Islam. On June 19, 2009, she drank from a well owned by another Muslim woman in the scorching heat. A woman confronted her for dipping her cup into the water several times, leading to a confrontation. Bibi says the women demanded that she immediately convert to Islam, to which she replied:
“I’m not going to convert. I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind? And why should it be me that converts instead of you?”
Five days later, she was assaulted by a group of Muslims including the woman who initially confronted her. The group and a local imam accused her of insulting Islam, qualifying for prosecution under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. They beat her further and brought her to the police station, where she was arrested.
Bibi was sentenced to death on November 8, 2010. She filed an appeal on November 11, 2010. She has been in prison for almost five years straight and her appeal process has been stretched out for three and a half years.
Now, Bibi is being joined by dozens of more victims. The Islamists in Pakistan realize that every single one of them has the power to trigger blasphemy prosecutions, effectively making them a self-governing religious police force.
Hollywood has brought attention to the installation of sharia law in Brunei, and many stars have helped bring attention to the kidnapped girls in Nigeria with the #BringBackOurGirls awareness campaign. It’s time for our attention to turn to Pakistan.