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International – Religious hatred in Pakistan

February 2017

A Pakistani Christian has been arrested in Lahore by police after allegedly committing blasphemy.

Babu Shahbaz, a Christian from Kamahan village, had a complaint registered at the local Lahore police station about him and some unknown people on 30 December 2016. He has been accused of committing blasphemy, as his name was found written on Quranic pages being scattered in the street.

Jealous attack

However, Shahbaz is illiterate and does not know how to write. It is believed the man who complained is a rival shopkeeper who was jealous and wanted the grocery shop owned by Shahbaz’s brother, to be shut down.

Babu Shahbaz, 41, is resident of Village Kamahan near Lahore, and is married, with one daughter and two sons. He has been evangelising for the past 15 years. Apart from Christians, many Muslims also come to him for help.

The police arrested Shahbaz Masih, his wife Rani Bibi and their daughter Saher, and detained them at Nishtar Police Station to avoid any further reaction from in the area.

Later on police transferred Shahbaz to the Police Station at Model Town Lahore. Police further deputed a large number of policemen in the village to monitor the situation and protect Christians and their properties.

The family is being supported by the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS). Nasir Saeed, director of CLAAS-UK said the misuse of the blasphemy law against Christians and other religious minorities continues to increase.

He said: ‘Blasphemy laws clearly violate international human rights treaties ratified by the Pakistani government. Therefore, it is the duty of the international community to put pressure on the Pakistani government to fulfil their international obligations and bring their law in line with these treaties’.

This comes as the Sindh Assembly in Pakistan has been told to take back its recently passed Forced Conversion Bill, which would have protected minorities against forced conversions.

The Sindh Assembly had unanimously passed a bill against forced religious conversions in the province, with a seven-year stretch in prison for perpetrators and a five-year jail term for facilitators of forced conversions. The bill has faced strict opposition from many Islamic religious groups, who claim it is enacting what they deem to be un-Islamic laws.

However, Mr Saeed said it was ‘unacceptable to minorities’ if the bill were to be taken back. He said, ‘Since this bill has been passed, the Sindh government must stick to it, get it signed by the governor and implement it as soon as possible, if the Sindh government believes in protecting its minorities’.

Ahmadis mobbed

Meanwhile, in another outbreak of religious intolerance, also in December 2016, a minority Muslim group of Ahmadis was mobbed by at least 1,000 hardcore Islamists, after their mosque was besieged.

According to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, among other minority religions in Pakistan, are being targeted with hatred and violence.

The APPG has called on the Pakistani authorities to provide ‘adequate security to protect Ahmadis and prosecute individuals responsible for crimes of this nature’. It said the attackers deliberately stormed the Ahmadi mosque in the violence that left at least one Ahmadi dead.

The mob threw stones and fired on the premises. After gaining control of the mosque, they allegedly burnt articles inside the building, including carpets.

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