International community urged to act after death of Christian in Pakistan

(Photo: Getty/iStock)

A church leader in Pakistan is pleading with world leaders to take action after a Christian man died of his injuries 10 days after being attacked by a mob over alleged blasphemy. 

Nazir Gill Masih, who was in his seventies, was attacked on 25 May in Mujahid Colony, Sargodha, by a mob accusing him of blasphemy. 

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) said the allegations against Masih were "dubious" and that religious minorities in Pakistan were "under increasing threat from flagrant misuse of the country's notorious blasphemy laws".

A Catholic bishop told ACN that unless the law is changed to make false blasphemy accusations an offence, Christians and other minorities will never feel safe in Pakistan.  

Bishop Samson Shukardin, President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Pakistan, said that many Christians are illiterate and would therefore be unlikely to intentionally commit blasphemy. 

He urged the authorities must take action to stop false accusations and violent mobs from terrorising victims, their families and neighbours.

"It is very important that legislation is introduced whereby those found to have wrongly accused people of blasphemy are given sentences including jail terms," he said. 

Blasphemy in Pakistan carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment or the death sentence, but Christian and other human rights groups have warned that the laws are frequently abused.

Nazir Gill Masih

Death sentences for blasphemy have traditionally been overturned by the courts but the appeals process often lasts years, in which time the accused is forced to remain behind bars. Even after being released, they risk being attacked and even killed by extremists.

Bishop Shukardin said that the failure of the authorities to deal adequately with blasphemy-related violence against Christians in the Punjab's Jaranwala district last year had emboldened the weaponisation of blasphemy laws against innocent minorities.

"Until the government is serous and makes laws to protect the minorities, especially the Christians who are the major minority in Punjab, the situation regarding misuse of blasphemy legislation will only get worse," he said. 

"We are not asking for anything that is against the country of Pakistan. We are simply asking for the protection of our lives and the lives of our families."

He said that foreign pressure was the only way to force Pakistan to act to end the "alarming" increase in persecution against Christians and other minorities in Pakistan. 

"Generally, when you see how many incidents have taken place, you begin to realise that these incidents are increasing day by day," he said. 

Nasir Saeed, director of CLAAS-UK, which provides free legal assistance to Pakistani Christians facing false blasphemy accusations, said he was "deeply saddened" by Masih's death.

"This barbaric act highlights the severe consequences of the misuse of blasphemy laws in our country and serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need for reform in Pakistan's blasphemy laws," he said.

"As a human rights activist, I am profoundly distressed by this senseless loss of life and the violence that preceded it.

"The Pakistani government must take immediate and decisive action to prevent such tragedies in the future."

He added, "The death of Nazir Masih is a tragedy that should never have occurred. It is now the responsibility of the Pakistani government, with the support of the international community, to ensure that his death is not in vain."