By Kashif Nawab
A distressing incident unfolded in Dogage Town, near the Rangers Headquarters in Lahore, leading to the arrest of a Christian couple on blasphemy charges. The case, which has sent shockwaves through the Christian community, highlights the urgent need for reform in Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and the protection of religious minorities.
On September 8, 2023, the Lahore police registered a case against Shaukat Masih and Kiran Masih, residents of Dogage Town, under Section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPP) after pages of the Quran were found torn on the rooftop of their house. The complaint was lodged by a local Muslim man, Mohammad Tamoor, who witnessed the pages falling from the roof, prompting immediate concern.
Muhammad Tamoor, driven by the unusual sight, approached the residence and engaged with Kiran Masih. She explained that her young children, Sundas and Rubi, along with her son Sabir, might have unintentionally thrown something without realizing its significance. Responding to Muhammad Tamoor’s insistence, Kiran allowed him access to their home.
Upon reaching the rooftop, Muhammad Tamoor discovered a pink bag containing additional pages of the Quran tucked behind a water tank. Concerned about the discovery, he immediately dialed the emergency police number, 15, and the police arrived promptly. Muhammad Tamoor handed over the bag and the torn Quranic pages to the authorities.
What transpired next was deeply troubling. Muhammad Tamoor reportedly started using derogatory language towards Kiran and her children, leading to physical violence against them. He even threatened to kill them, labeling them as blasphemers. Fearing for their lives, Muhammad Tamoor called on members of the hard-line Islamic party, Tehreek-e-Labaik, to take matters into their own hands. This resulted in a gathering of Muslims who attempted to harm the Christian couple in front of their three minor children, according to family activist Tariq Barket.
Fortunately, the police intervened in time to prevent a tragic outcome. They arrested the Christian couple, thereby saving their lives from the extremist individuals who had gathered, demanding the death of the alleged blasphemers while chanting slogans of “Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah.”
The lawyer representing Shaukat Masih and Kiran Masih, Riaz Anjam, explained that the couple has been charged under Section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPP), which carries a life sentence for the desecration of the Holy Quran. However, he emphasized that the couple is innocent and will be released on bail soon, as they did not commit any intentional or deliberate act of desecration. In fact, Shaukat Masih was not even at home when the incident occurred, as confirmed during a jail visit.
Chairperson of Voice for Justice, Joseph Jansen, strongly condemned the barbaric attack by extremist individuals on Kiran Masih in front of her minor children and the vigilante-style justice they attempted to dispense. He highlighted the failure of the Pakistani government to prevent the exploitation of blasphemy allegations against religious minorities and called for those who incite or engage in violence based on such allegations to be brought to justice.
Joseph Jansen stressed the urgency of addressing the deteriorating condition of religious minorities in Pakistan, emphasizing the need for immediate action and intervention to protect the rights, safety, and security of all citizens, regardless of their religious beliefs.
Human rights activist Ashik Naz expressed deep concern over the alarming escalation of religious intolerance, discrimination, and violence against religious minorities in Pakistan. He cited incidents like this one, which have forced Christians to flee their homes in places like Sargodha and Tandlianwala due to baseless blasphemy accusations. He called attention to the rising tide of religious intolerance in Pakistan, which has compelled the Christian community in Punjab to abandon their residences in search of safety.
Nadia Stephen, a women’s rights activist, stressed the critical need for the government to ensure proper investigations by senior police officials before registering a case. She also emphasized the importance of ensuring that accused individuals are not unjustly punished based on mere allegations.
This incident comes in the wake of a violent attack last month in Jaranwala town of Faisalabad, where a mob of over 6,000, led by the radical Islamist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), attacked on 26 churches and hundreds of Christian homes were burned down over allegations of desecration of the pages of Quran by the violent mob. This event underscores the gravity of the situation facing religious minorities in Pakistan.