On February 19th, a violent horde of Islamist ‘protesters’ surrounded a small Christian home on Shahdara road in Pakistan armed with gasoline and demanding the surrender of Patras Masih, an illiterate 17 year-old ‘blasphemer’. Their conditions were that his family give him up, or all the “Christian houses” (numbering around 700 in the area) would burn.
Masih is accused of posting an irreverent photo to a Muslim-administered Facebook group called ‘Paaglon Ki Basti’ in January of this year. The accusation arose a month after the photo was uploaded, resulting in instantaneous outrage in the Muslim community. Patras’s father claims his son’s innocence, saying that he hasn’t had possession of his phone since December 2017 and has never had any desire to cause conflict between the communities.
The protests were headed up by Zainul Abideen, the cousin of the accuser, and consisted largely of members of Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah, an Islamist political party, among other groups. Throughout the day the mob grew from hundreds to thousands and proceeded to set fires on a main highway to block traffic, saying the violence would only intensify until Masih turned himself in. Hundreds of Christians fled their homes in terror, others, with nowhere to go, locked themselves in their houses and began to pray.
Masih handed himself over to police on Monday night and was quickly charged under Section 925-C of Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which covers disrespect or defilement of the name of Muhammad in any way, shape, or form and carries a mandatory death penalty. Many locals suspect Masih was charged under the harshest section of the law simply to placate the gangs.
Similar cases have arisen in the past: In 2010 a Christian mother of five known as Asia Bibi was sentenced to death by hanging after an argument with a Muslim woman over a bowl of water. No evidence was required in order to prove which of her statements were blasphemous or whether she had any intent to commit the crime at all.
In September of 2017 Nadeem James, an illiterate Christian father of two, was accused by a friend of sending him a poem blaspheming the Prophet. Despite the accused’s lack of education and strong suspicions that the accuser used James’s phone to send the message to himself, James received the death penalty.
Though the Pakistani government has yet to execute anyone accused or found guilty of blasphemy, Muslim citizens are known for taking the law into their own hands and carrying out the gruesome killings themselves. Many of the victims are later found to have been falsely accused, leaving poor, local Christians to carry on in fear- their lives entirely at the mercy of the mob.