The latest “blasphemy” trial from Pakistan involves a Christian laborer named Pervaiz Masih, who was working on a construction site when one of his Muslim co-workers reportedly knocked off work to listen to a religious speech. Masih told him to get back to work, an argument ensued, and according to the charges, Masih made “derogatory remarks against the prophet of Islam.”
That is considered illegal “blasphemy” under Pakistani law–even when the speaker is non-Muslim and therefore, does not think there is anything special about the “prophet of Islam”–so the police swooped in.
“We have registered a case under section 295C against the accused,” said local police official Ali Hussain, as quoted by AFP, which notes that the “crime” is theoretically a capital offense.
The Pakistani government has not actually carried out blasphemy executions, but vigilante mobs have been known to pick up where the penal system left off. “Bonded labourer Shehzad Masih and his pregnant wife Shama Bibi were beaten by a mob of 1,500 people then thrown into a furnace last year in a crazed reaction to rumours they had thrown pages of the Koran into the garbage,” AFP recalls.
The AFP report also mentions that Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws are often used to settle personal grudges–an easy game for Christians to lose, as they make up only 1.6 percent of the country’s population. According to UCA News, this is exactly what is happening in Pervaiz Masih’s case.
“Pervaiz and one fellow Muslim had a brawl with their Muslim contractor on the issue of payment of delivery of four trolleys of sand,” the brother-in-law of the accused told UCA News. “The contractor did not make the agreed payment, resulting in heated arguments between two sides.” According to this account of the incident, the contractor decided blasphemy allegations were an easy way to win the argument over wages with his Christian employee.
The brother-in-law went on to describe Pervaiz as “a poor man who has four children and wife with a minor disability. They are all terrified over what has happened.”
According to human rights groups, other Christian families in the area are also nervous about the blasphemy arrest, and several have already fled the area, fearing mob violence.