A fourth Christian teenager has been arrested in Pakistan on charges of violating blasphemy law after he allegedly burnt a Koran, the British Pakistani Christian Association reported on Tuesday.
Sixteen-year-old Asif Stephen claims he was accosted by a man named Muhammed Nawaz while attending a local bazaar. The man accused him of stealing from a donation box and consequently began to beat him.
After beating the boy, Nawaz called a local imam, a fundamentalist named Qari Rana Rashid Razv, who then claimed that in addition to stealing, the boy had burnt a Koran.
Razv, who reportedly has a history of preaching hatred towards minority Christians, then joined Nawaz at the scene and began violently beating Stephen.
A passer-by then called the police, who, instead of protecting the teenager from his attackers, arrested and booked him into prison on blasphemy charges.
However, within an hour of being booked in, Razv and a mob of more than 300 Muslim fundamentalists surrounded the prison, calling for a public lynching of Stephen.
As the mob overwhelmed local police, Stephen was removed from his cell and handed over to the mob, who consequently beat him until reinforcement officers stepped in to calm the situation.
Police then moved Stephen to a higher security district jail where he pleaded guilty to blasphemy in what his family believed was a coerced confession. His father, Stephen Masih, also denied that his son would commit theft.
“Muhammed Nawazhas always had a grudge against my son and regularly tells Asif that he is the cause for his financial loss,” he said. “He has often threatened Asif and told him that the tomb area is designated for him to collect recyclables as he is a Muslim and Asif is only a worthless and untouchable Christian.”
In recent years, Christians in Pakistan have repeatedly fallen victim to Islamist attacks designed to intimidate them and drive them out the country, which has an overwhelming Muslim majority. The Christian presence in Pakistan precedes the formation of the Islamic Pakistani state, and Christians there protest that they are more indigenous to the land than the many Muslims who left India to live in Pakistan after partition. As many Christians in Pakistan also belong to the lower castes, they face severe discrimination from wealthier Muslim Pakistanis.
On Easter 2015, jihadists targeted two churches in Lahore, killing 14 people, and the following Easter, a suicide bombing in a nearby location killed 72 people and left hundreds injured, including women and children.
Approximately 100 Christians are also detained every year on charges against Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws. In March, between 3,000 and 4,000 people marched on the streets calling to extend the country’s blasphemy law to include the death penalty.