“Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
(Romans 10:13; Acts 2:21; Joel 2:32)
Police in Pakistan have arrested a Christian couple in Punjab province after a complaint was filed against them after allegedly “torn pages” of the Quran were found on the roof of their house. Shaukat Masih and his wife, Kiran Masih, now face blasphemy charges under Section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code which states that defilement or desecration of the Quran is punishable with mandatory life imprisonment. Section 295-C of the Code makes insulting the Prophet punishable with mandatory life imprisonment or the maximum death penalty.
After mobs destroyed churches and homes in Jaranwala city in Punjab on 16 August, Christians had to cast aside their fears to attend Sunday church services under heavy security. The attacks occurred after two men were claimed to have torn out pages from a Quran and written insulting remarks on them. After this accusation was circulated in Jaranwala and on social media, mobs burned Bibles, tore down crosses, and looted, damaged, and set on fire 26 churches and many homes in one of the worst outbreaks of violence against Pakistan’s minority Christian community.
Hundreds who fled have now returned to their burned homes. Some say they may never feel safe again. “They are worried for their safety; they are worried for their children, who witnessed the tragedy and are traumatized,” said a local Catholic priest, Fr. Khalid Mukhtar. Kanwal, a young mother whose home was attacked and who had to flee barefoot with her newborn son, said, “We are very scared of our neighbours … we don’t want them to destroy whatever little we have left.” Another believer added, “My house is in ashes now. If the mob had so much anger, why did they burn houses and steal our belongings? Is burning the Bible not blasphemous?”
Many in Pakistan are pointing at the previously outlawed far-right Islamist political party, Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), for instigating the mob attacks. TLP denies the allegation. Police have a list of 170 suspects and are investigating them for the violence.
The interim Chief Minister of Punjab, Syed Mohsin Naqvi, announced that Christians who lost their homes would receive 2 million rupees (US$6,800) to rebuild their lives. He said authorities have begun to repair and restore the churches to their original condition. However, Fr. Mukhtar challenged the government’s claim and said officials only visited one damaged church and did not go to the homes of anyone who suffered losses. He said that the walls of two churches were only painted, and needed rebuilding.
According to the 2017 Census, Christians make up around 1.27 percent of Pakistan’s population, and most of them reside in Punjab. There have been several cases of attacks and terrorism against them in the recent past. Accusations of blasphemy are often concocted to defame and provide a basis for attacks, in order to settle scores or personal disputes arising from family vendettas. This often leads to mob violence against the entire Christian community.
The government seems to be indifferent to these abuses of the blasphemy law and fails to hold those responsible accountable. This encourages extremists and fosters fear and insecurity among all minorities.
Please join with us in lifting the country of Pakistan to the Lord. Please pray that God would move in a mighty way in the country:
- for the safety of believers
- that people would not make false accusations of blasphemy
- that the government would take positive action to verify accusations of blasphemy and guarantee the safety of Christians
- that people would speak up on behalf of those falsely accused
- that the blasphemy law would be changed
- that those who have had to flee their homes would find safe lodgings, and that children would be free to attend school
- the safety of women and children caught in the attacks