Pakistan: International community must act to stop abuse of blasphemy law – bishop

A leading Catholic bishop has made an impassioned plea calling on world powers to come together and demand that the Pakistan authorities act to protect the lives of persecuted minority faith groups under increasing threat from flagrant misuse of the country’s notorious blasphemy laws.

Bishop Samson Shukardin, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, said that, unless laws are passed making it an offence to fabricate allegations of blasphemy, Christians and other beleaguered minorities will never feel safe in their own country. The bishop’s comments coincide with news today (Monday, 3 June) that Nazir Gill Masih, a Christian man from Sargodha in his 70s, had died in hospital 10 days after being attacked by a mob acting on dubious blasphemy claims made against him.

Bishop Samson Shukardin of Hyderabad, Pakistan
Bishop Samson Shukardin of Hyderabad, Pakistan

Bishop Shukardin said such incidents would only increase unless the Pakistan authorities clamp down on people falsifying accusations and stop mobs taking matters into their own hands by terrorising victims, their families and neighbours.

In an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which supports persecuted and other Christians, Bishop Shukardin said: “It is very important that legislation is introduced whereby those found to have wrongly accused people of blasphemy are given sentences including jail terms.”

The bishop stressed that, as illiteracy is commonplace among Christians, most are unlikely to commit intentional blasphemy in accordance with 295B of the Penal Code which carries life imprisonment for desecration of the Qur’an. The bishop, who is chairman of the Catholic or National Commission for Justice and Peace, the Church’s advocacy arm, accused the Pakistan authorities of failing to bring justice for the victims of last August’s wave of violence against Christians in the Punjab’s Jaranwala district, an incident also triggered by a spurious blasphemy allegation.

Bishop Shukardin warned that this and other examples of alleged government inaction has only emboldened more people to weaponise the controversial laws against innocent minorities. He said to ACN: “Nothing has happened to bring justice following the Jaranwala incident. This is a disaster. It is not good for the minorities. Until the government is serous and makes laws to protect the minorities, especially the Christians who are the major minority in Punjab, the situation regarding misuse of blasphemy legislation will only get worse. We are not asking for anything that is against the country of Pakistan. We are simply asking for the protection of our lives and the lives of our families.”

He added: “We need to bring justice and safety for our minorities and indeed all those who are treated badly because of their religion or anything that is not in accordance with human dignity.” Saying that only foreign pressure would force Pakistan to act, he stated: “It needs pressure to come from abroad – government to government.”

The bishop said to ACN: “Persecution is getting worse. You get the major incidents such as what happened in Jaranwala in August and what happened towards the end of May in Sargodha but there are so many other more minor incidents taking place. It is an alarming situation.  Generally, when you see how many incidents have taken place, you begin to realise that these incidents are increasing day by day.”

The bishop stressed that only a minority of Muslims in Pakistan were antagonistic to minorities, adding that the volume of YouTube and television statements condemning the May 25-26 anti-Christian attacks in Sargodha was unprecedented.


By John Pontifex.

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