Eight hundred Christian families have fled their homes in a neighbourhood in Lahore, Pakistan, after a 20-year-old Christian, Patras Masih, was accused of blasphemy for posting a photo on Facebook.
Blasphemy allegations against the Muslim prophet Muhammad are taken extremely seriously in Pakistan – in some cases those accused can face the death sentence, but often cases don’t go to the courts as mobs of angry local Muslims can take matters into their own hands. In the past, Christian neighbourhoods have been sent on fire after blasphemy accusations, and expecting more of the same, the families in this community fled.
According to his uncle, Patras Masih posted an offensive photo to a Facebook group named PaglonKiBasti (the Town of Lunatics). The group consists of both Christian and Muslim members.
Muhammad Awais, who reported the blasphemy, alerted the group moderator to the post, who in turn phoned Patras Masih and asked him to remove the picture. But Patras Masih refused, angering the local residents.
A mob formed demanding Patras Masih be publicly hanged for posting content which disrespected the prophet Muhammad. They set tyres alight and blocked part of the Grand Trunk Road, a main route in Lahore that connects the city with other major parts of the country.
Police arrived at the scene, with Muslim clerics, in order to try and calm tensions. The police managed to get the road cleared for traffic in the evening, but the mob continued to demand Patras Masih’s arrest and public hanging.
“In the evening, when the angry mob was getting out of control, we went to the superintendent of police’s office and handed Patras to them,” said Arif Masih, his uncle. “Since then we don’t know what is taking place with him.”
Patras Masih had a nominal education and has been working as a cleaner in a bank. According to Punjab Assembly parliamentarian, Mary Gill, many Christians are illiterate and don’t understand the sensitivity around the prophet Muhammad and are therefore careless on social media. Mary Gill said that there had been many of these instances over the years.
A joint press conference, which was held yesterday evening between Christian and Islamic leaders at Shahdara Police Station, called for dispersed Christians to return to the neighbourhood.
Since this happened, reports are circulating that Patras and his cousin (who is alleged to have shared the offensive image with Patras) have both been beaten and tortured by the police, though these claims are unverified.
Pakistan is ranked at number five on the 2018 Open Doors World Watch List. Christians experience more violence in Pakistan than almost anywhere else. The nation’s infamous blasphemy laws are abused to settle personal scores, particularly against minorities including Christians. As well as attacks and threats from Islamic extremists, all Christians suffer from institutionalised discrimination, with occupations that are seen as low, dirty and derogatory being officially reserved for Christians, most of whom are from the poorer classes. An estimated 700 Christian women and girls are abducted every year in Pakistan. They are often raped and forced to marry Muslim men, which also involves forced conversion. If their families complain, they are accused of harassing the ‘voluntarily converted’ girl and her new family.
We support people who are beaten, tortured,
imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.