Date:  February 23, 2021

A complaint of “blasphemy” was filed against two Christians in Pakistan on 13 February, soon after they had a conversation with a group of Muslims in Model Town, Lahore.

According to a Barnabas Fund contact the two friends, Haroon Ayub Masih and Salamat Mansha Masih, were reported to the police by Muslim student Haroon Ahmed.

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Ahmed alleged that that they approached him and his friends in a community park, gave them a Christian booklet titled “Water of Life” and talked to them about Christianity. He also claimed that the Christians made derogatory remarks about Muhammed and the Quran.

Police are investigating the allegations and the two Christian men have been summoned to attend the police station by 27 February to record statements, or face arrest.

Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code stipulates a mandatory death sentence for anybody found guilty of “defiling the name” of Muhammad. At the close of 2020, approximately 22 Christians were on death row in Pakistan on “blasphemy” charges, including four minors. Seven have been sentenced to death. To date no one has been executed, but since 1990 at least 15 Christians have been murdered extra-judicially by zealous Muslims because of “blasphemy” allegations, even before their trial could be conducted in accordance with the law.

Pakistan’s notorious “blasphemy” laws are often used to make false accusations in order to settle personal grudges. Christians are especially vulnerable, as simply stating their beliefs can be construed as “blasphemy” and the lower courts usually favour the testimony of Muslims, in accordance with sharia (Islamic law).

The Pakistani government announced in December 2020 a renewed commitment to protect minorities and promote religious tolerance. Acknowledging a need to protect all victims of false “blasphemy”, as well as Christians and other minorities from forced marriage to Muslims and forced conversions, the government appointed Hafiz Muhammad Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi as Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Religious Harmony and Middle East. A respected Muslim scholar and Chairman of the Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC), Ashrafi directly advises Prime Minister Imran Khan on interreligious matters and has set up a grievance helpline to resolve complaints of false “blasphemy” accusations or any threats made on religious grounds.