In the small town of Jaranwala, Pakistan, a recent disturbing incident has highlighted the volatile nature of blasphemy accusations against Christians. Two Christian brothers became the epicenter of a maelstrom when they were accused of desecrating the Koran. Claims were made that they wrote offensive slogans across its pages using a red pen. Bizarrely, those leveling the allegations also stated that these brothers went as far as to inscribe their names, home addresses, and national identity card numbers in the said act of desecration. The reason for including such easily traceable details remains enigmatic and has raised eyebrows.
The aftermath was both swift and devastating. Incited by these accusations, the local Muslim community, with armed clerics at the helm, embarked on a spree of violence that would mar the town’s history. A mob that residents said consisted of people carrying iron rods, knives and sticks set fire to churches and scores of homes. They set ablaze ancient churches that had stood as hallmarks of the Christian faith in the region, looted and torched Christian residences, and attacked a Christian cemetery. This reign of terror spanned at least ten hours according to eyewitness accounts, leaving countless Christians with no option but to flee their homes, fearing for their lives.
There are some two-and-a-half to three million Christians currently living in Pakistan. For these Christians and minority Shia Muslims in Pakistan, the shadow of blasphemy accusations is an ever-present menace. The legal underpinning for this is found in Pakistan’s penal code, which dictates
penalties for blasphemy ranging from several years of incarceration to the death penalty. These laws, while aiming to preserve the sanctity of religious beliefs, often become tools in personal disputes, and their misuse can lead to devastating consequences for the accused. The weight of this law was amplified in 1990 when the Federal Shari’a Court decreed that blaspheming against the Prophet Muhammad should be met with nothing short of execution. While this severe sentence has likely never been officially carried out, the threat looms large.
Unfortunately, these types of serious allegations are often tainted with misinformation and deceit. False accusations of blasphemy are not uncommon and are sometimes wielded as weapons in personal vendettas. These baseless charges can catalyze deadly mob violence as is likely in this recent case. As of 2021, records indicate that 89 individuals accused of blasphemy met extrajudicial deaths at the hands of enraged mobs.
Such incidents underscore the pressing need for a reevaluation of blasphemy laws in Pakistan, not only to ensure justice but to safeguard the harmony of its diverse population.