Two Pakistani Christian nurses accused of “blasphemy” rescued from angry mob

13 April 2021

Two Pakistani Christian nurses were rescued by police from an angry mob on 9 April after they were accused of “blasphemy” by hospital staff in Faisalabad.

Staff Nurse Maryam Lal was attacked and injured with a knife before police arrived at the Civil Hospital Faisalabad to take her and nursing student Newish Arooj away from the building for their protection.

Health staff protest outside the Faisalabad hospital, demanding the Christian nurses face prosecution for “blasphemy”. Demonstrators were later joined by religious activists

The women were subsequently charged with “blasphemy” under section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), which relates to the deliberate damage, defilement or desecration of the Quran and carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment.

Muslim colleagues accused the women of committing “blasphemy” by removing a sticker that had a Quranic text written on it. As news of the allegations spread, staff staged a demonstration demanding legal action, and they were then joined by religious activists.

According to Lal’s statement to police, she removed the sticker while cleaning a cupboard of the head nurse and gave it to the head nurse before finishing her night shift with Arooj. The following morning the head nurse accused her of desecrating the inscription.

The President of the National Council of Churches in Pakistan, Bishop Azad Marshall, called for the women’s immediate release. “According to our information, the two women were implicated in a false case by a co-worker who bore a grudge against them,” he said.

Pointing out that mere allegations of “blasphemy” are enough to destroy the lives of the accused and their families, Bishop Azad called for the law to be amended. “This lawlessness and miscarriage of justice is instilling fear and insecurity in our community and I urge the government to address this issue,” he said.

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).

Accusations frequently trigger mob violence and even killings. Christians acquitted of allegations live in fear of attack by extremists and often can no longer return to live in their homes. In February 2021 a Christian nurse was forced to go into hiding after she was charged with “blasphemy” under Section 295-C of the PPC, which carries a mandatory death penalty.

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.

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