Christian Arrested Over Blasphemy Claims In Pakistan

Christians protesters demonstrating against the misuse of Pakistan's blasphemy laws. The laws have been called a root cause of anti-Christian persecution.Reuters

A Christian in Pakistan has been arrested by police after allegedly committing blasphemy.

Babu Shahbaz, 41, was arrested on December 30 and is now being detained in Lahore, according to the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), and the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA).

Shahbaz is accused of committing blasphemy after his name was found on Quranic pages scattered in the street. He has been charged with section 295B of the Pakistan Penal Code. However, CLAAS says that Shahbaz is illiterate and does not know how to read.

The complainant against Shahbaz is Haji Nadeem, a rival shopkeeper with an alleged rivalry with Shahbaz's family. In his statement he reported that while on the way to the mosque for prayer, he and others found 100 torn Quranic pages inscribed with Shahbaz's name scattered in the street.

Shahbaz is married with two sons, and has been an evangelist for 15 years, organising healing prayer meetings at his home in Kamahan village. It is alleged that Shahbaz's meetings were drawing numbers from Peer Baba Gujjar's following, triggering animoisty against Shahbaz.

CLAAS reports that Nadeem, Guijar and other local Muslims were unhappy with Shahbaz's growing popularity and have implicated him in a false charge of blasphemy. Shahbaz's family sought the help of CLAAS on the day of the arrest, and have been promised the family food, shelter, and legal aid.

Police have insisted that a fair investigation will take place, however the incident has incited violence from some Muslims towards local Christians, forcing many to flee in fear. Major Nathaniel Sahid, from the Salvation Army Church in Kamahan, told the BCPA: "Local Christians are terrified, we are getting threats from local Muslim men that are community will be attacked. If we leave our homes will be robbed, if we stay we could get beaten, robbed or even killed. It is sad that a petty jealousy can lead to such hatred and the persecution of innocent people."

Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the BPCA, said: "This latest blasphemy case highlights the little progress made by the Government of Pakistan towards improving the rights of minorities under their protection... Britain and the US have both maintained Pakistan as their largest foreign aid recipient for over a decade. The influence this provides them should be used as a lever to bring hope to minorities, instead it seems only to prolong the horror that Christians and other minorities face."

Nasir Saeed, director of CLAAS-UK, said that the misuse of Pakistan's blasphemy law continues to increase against Christians and other minorities, and is considered to be a root cause of persecution.

"I wish the matter is resolved out of court as soon as possible, otherwise Shahbaz's fate will be the same as the Aasia Bibi, Sawan Masih, Zaffar Bhatti and many others who have been languishing in jails for years." Saeed said.

"If the government does not change this law sadly we can expect several reports of false cases of blasphemy against religious minorities stemming from property issues, professional and business jealously and family vendettas in 2017."

He added: "Blasphemy laws clearly violate international human rights treaties ratified by the Pakistani government, therefore it is the duty of the international community to build pressure on the Pakistani government to fulfil their international obligations and bring their law in line with these treaties."