Königstein/Rome, 26.05.2015. “When a Muslim is accused of blasphemy, it is he alone who pays the consequences. However, if it is a Christian who is accused, then the entire Christian community is held responsible.” This was the comment made to ACN by Archbishop Sebastian Francis Shah of Lahore, after the events of Sunday 24 May in Sanda, a mainly Christian quarter of this large Pakistani metropolis.
A young Christian man, Humayun Faisal Masih, was accused of blasphemy after having burnt some pages of a newspaper alleged to have contained verses of the Koran. Shortly afterwards an enraged crowd attacked the Christian quarter. “According to certain witnesses, the boy was tidying up the house”, Archbishop Shah explained. “However, it is not yet clear exactly what happened. Yesterday our priority was to protect the people of the quarter, and we didn’t have time to verify the validity of the accusations. This afternoon I will go to Sanda and endeavour to find out more.” The archbishop had been alerted to the incident at seven o’clock on the Sunday evening, when the crowd had just blocked the traffic in the ancient Christian quarter, setting fire to tyres and starting to hurl stones at the houses. The Christians immediately left their homes, fearing a tragedy similar to the ones at Gojra in 2009 and Joseph Colony in 2013.
“I immediately requested help from some Muslim leaders and local politicians. Thanks to their intervention, the police succeeded in dispersing the crowd by midnight. It is the first time the government has succeeded in acting in time to save both the people and their homes.” For Archbishop Shah the effectiveness of the response by the authorities is the result of the dramatic events earlier in the year, the attacks on two churches in Lahore on 15 March. “Since then I have maintained close relations with politicians and representatives of the local Muslim community. It was their support that has enabled us to avert the worst.”
What remains to be investigated is the accusations against Humayun, who has been formally charged with blasphemy under Article 295b of the Pakistani constitution which, together with Article 295c, is known as the so-called “anti-blasphemy laws” and which carries a penalty of life imprisonment for anyone who “profanes” the Koran. According to local sources, the young man is mentally retarded – but this does not constitute a mitigating factor under Pakistani law. As Professor Shahid Mobeen, a professor at the Pontifical Lateran University and author of a book on the Blasphemy Laws and Religious Freedom, explained to ACN, “the law takes no account of the intention on the part of the accused. In order to be convicted it sufficient to drop a copy of the Koran or accidentally tread on a page of a newspaper on which are printed verses of the Koran, the sacred book of Islam. And yet only 5% of Pakistanis even understand Arabic, and consequently 95% the population could easily commit blasphemy without even realising it.”
Marta Petrosillo, firstname.lastname@example.org