A 25-year-old Christian named Imran Masih, from the Punjab province of Pakistan, has been charged with “blasphemy” for allegedly watching anti-Islamic lectures on his smartphone.
Masih has already been beaten severely by a mob in Pakistan and forced into hiding. Now he is on the run, as the local imams issued a fatwa calling for his murder by immolation.
When the Christians of his village refused to hand him over, they were told they had a choice between forced conversion to Islam or exile from the village.
According to the British Pakistani Christian Association, Masih’s troubles began when he fell in love with a Muslim girl at the hospital where he worked as a janitor.
“Many Muslim men were uncomfortable with his close relationship with a Muslim woman, and warned him not to get to close to her. However the two of them simply fell in love,” the BPCA writes.
On April 15, Masih told a Muslim friend named Bilal about his relationship and used his phone to show off photos of his girlfriend. When Masih was called away, Bilal searched his phone’s browser history and found a Facebook page containing a video of “a Western apologist who was apparently saying blasphemous comments about Mohammed,” as the BPCA puts it.
Bilal became physically and verbally aggressive with Masih, accused him of blasphemy, then called in a couple of Muslim chums to administer a beating.
When others intervened to stop the fight, “the duty doctor was called to the scene of the violence, and to calm things he asked Imran to smash his phone and ask for forgiveness.”
Masih, who claimed he has never watched the video that triggered this violent outburst, did what the doctor asked, but his “incensed and crazed colleagues continued to foment hatred” towards him. The local imams got together, accused him of blasphemy, issued the murder fatwa, and on May 7th managed to get an angry mob of over a thousand Muslims marching on the local Christian enclave.
The Christians called the police, who were able to break up the mob, but the local Christian community of some 45 families is still said to be living in fear. There have been threats to burn their homes down, and the local imam declared that if they won’t hand Masih over, they must all either convert to Islam or depart the village. A local Muslim man has reportedly put a bounty worth over $10,000 U.S. on Masih’s head.
Christian Today adds that local Muslim shopkeepers are refusing to sell food to Christians, after the local mosque called for a boycott.
According to Daily Pakistan, the Christians must travel to the city of Mandi Bahauddin to buy groceries. This report also says that almost half of the village’s Christian population has left their homes to move in with nearby relatives.
“I cannot believe that such things are still happening in this world. Such treatment towards Pakistani Christians is a slap on the face of the Punjab and central government, and to all those who never tire of telling the world that minorities are protected and enjoying equal rights in the country,” said Nasir Saeed, director of the UK Center for Legal Aid, Assistance, and Settlement (CLAAS), a group that helps persecuted Christians in Pakistan.
“I don’t understand how watching a video on the internet can be criminalised as an act of blasphemy. And if this is blasphemy then all those who watch this video or any other videos against Islam have committed blasphemy and everyone should be arrested, charged and punished under the blasphemy law,” continued Saeed, as quoted by Christian Today.
“I believe this is not an act of blasphemy and if people still think Imran has committed blasphemy then he should be punished according to the law. No one has any right to take the law into their own hands, harass local Christians, threaten them, burn Imran alive or force Christians to convert to Islam or leave the village,” he said.
It is not entirely encouraging that Saeed accepts the notion of punishing “blasphemy” under the law, but at least he’s foursquare against mob violence, forced conversion, and murder by decree.
The provincial police apparently were willing to arrest and prosecute him for blasphemy, but Daily Pakistan said they could not find sufficient evidence after “investigating the matter thoroughly.”
The Hindustan Times quotes Mandi Bahauddin police chief Raja Basharat asking irate Muslims to “first present the cell phone of Masih,” so the “blasphemous clip” of video can be entered as evidence. Since the BPCA report said Masih destroyed his phone and begged forgiveness to placate his Muslim “friend” and the goons who beat him up, it probably won’t be finding its way into any evidence lockers.