Pakistani police arrested Christian brick kiln worker Pervaiz Masih in Garray Wala village in the Kasur District of Punjab province on 2 September after a Muslim business rival accused him of insulting the name of Muhammad.
Pervaiz, father of four children, including a seven-month-old baby boy, fled his home in fear after Muhammad Kahlid registered an incident report against him alleging that he had made derogatory remarks about Muhammad in a dispute between the men, said Ali Hussain, a senior police official.
Police detained four of Pervaiz’s relatives, and officers dragged his wife into the streets and ripped off her clothing as they tried to get information from her about his whereabouts. Police also beat local Christians and raided Christian homes in Pervaiz’s home village as they attempted to get information about him.
About two weeks later, on 2 September, Pervaiz Masih handed himself over to police, whereupon his relatives were released. He was sent to the Kasur District Jail.
Christian Pakistani lawyers from the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), a Barnabas partner organisation, discovered that the dispute between the two men erupted after Pervaiz requested payments owed to him.
Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan. There is a mandatory death sentence for insulting the name of Muhammad under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code. Blasphemy accusations are frequently used to exert revenge and settle personal vendettas.
Although no one has been executed for convictions under Section 295-C, the accused are left languishing in prisons. Even without a conviction, anyone accused of blasphemy is vulnerable to local Muslims taking the law into their own hands in veneration of Muhammad.
“We have received reports that some Christian families have already fled the village over fears of any potential mob violence,” said Joseph Francis, national director of CLAAS, “but a heavy contingent of police has been deployed to protect the minority members.”
According to UCA News, many Christians are making the difficult decision to flee into neighbouring countries to seek asylum from religious persecution. After his brother was accused of sending a blasphemous text message to Muslim clerics in 2011, Sarfraz Masih has decided to take his family to Sri Lanka. “I have resisted four years of intimidations, including death threats, while pursuing my brother’s case vigorously. But I can’t take it anymore,” he said.
In what could be a positive move forward, Pakistan’s Federal Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, said on 7 September that the government will take action against anyone who calls someone else kafir (non-Muslim). If such legislation were to be put into place, this could be a deterrent to anyone making a false accusation of blasphemy.