Pakistan police in Lahore have initiated a manhunt to find two young Christian men accused of blasphemy for allegedly making derogatory comments about Islam.
A Muslim student named Haroon Ahmed filed a complaint against the two youths, insisting that they made denigrating remarks about the Qur’an and the prophet Muhammad during a discussion on religion, said Muratab Ali, a police investigator.
The two Christians — Haroon Ayub Masih and his friend Salamat Mansha Masih — were reportedly studying the Bible in Lahore’s Model Town Park on Saturday February 13 when a group of Muslims approached and told them they should not read the Bible in public.
The Muslims asked them about their Christian faith and requested reading material to help them understand the Bible.
“On their insistence, Haroon gave them a Christian book entitled, Zindagi Ka Paani or ‘Water of Life,’” said attorney Aneeqa Maria, who represents Haroon Masih. “The youths took the book and left Haroon and Mansha for the time being.”
Not long after, the Muslim youths returned to the spot and attacked Mansha, accusing him of having blasphemed against their prophet. The Muslims called park security and reported that the two Christians were evangelizing to Muslims in the park and had used derogatory words for the Qur’an and the Muhammad.
Superintendent of Police Asim Iftikhar told reporters Wednesday that the two Christians had not yet been arrested but that police were “raiding the whereabouts of the suspects and will soon arrest them.”
Iftikhar said that Lahore police have registered a First Information Report (FIR) for blasphemy against the two Christian youths under sections 295-A, 295-B and 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). Section 295-A (malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings) carries a punishment of imprisonment up to 10 years, 295-B (defiling the Koran) carries a life sentence, and section 295-C (derogatory remarks against Muhammad) is punishable by death.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are considered extremely severe and often those accused are deprived of the right to a counsel of their choice and most lawyers refuse to take up these cases for fear of reprisals. Blasphemy laws are also used to settle personal disputes in the Muslim-majority country.
Mere allegations of blasphemy have triggered violence against minorities like Christians. According to Morningstar News, 62 people accused of blasphemy have been killed by mobs since 1990, with few prosecutions.
Christians make up just 2 percent of the population in Pakistan, with the majority concentrated in Karachi, Lahore and Faisalabad.