Pakistan: Christian forced into hiding after being released from prison

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A 45-year-old Pakistani Christian was released on bail on November 15. He was accused of blasphemy after sharing a Bible verse on his Facebook account. Since his release, he has received threats from Islamic extremists and now lives in hiding, far from his family. 

After being accused of blasphemy and jailedHaroon Shahzad, a Pakistani Christian, was released on bail by Lahore High Court Judge Ali Baqir Najfi on November 15. 

A week before Eid Al Adha (feast of sacrifice Editor's note) on June 30, Shahzad had published on Facebook several verses (1 Corinthian 10 verses 18 to 21) which deal with food sacrificed to idols. 

His Facebook post, according to him, was not intended to hurt Muslims, who however accused him of comparing them to pagans by disrespecting animal sacrifice. He explains that as soon as he learned that his post had sparked negative reactions, he deleted it and “decided to meet with the village elders to explain (his) position”.

Following a wave of anger among the population, Shahzad had to flee the village. A manifestation of violence which also forced other Christian villagers to leave their homes. 

“I don’t know when this distressing situation will end”

Morning Star News spoke with Haroon Shahzad, from an undisclosed location, to explain the impact of his release on his life and that of his loved ones. He explains that he has only seen his family “once” since his release since they no longer live in the same place.

"My family has been on the run since the moment I was implicated in this false accusation and arrested by the police under mob pressure. My eldest daughter had just started her second year of college, but it has now been more than four month that she has not been able to return to her establishment. My other children cannot resume their studies either because my family is obliged to change location after 15 to 20 days for security reasons. [...] We do not "We're not together. They're living with a relative while I take refuge elsewhere. I don't know when this distressing situation will end."

According to the Christian, it was a man named Ladhar who filed the complaint against him, a member of the Islamist extremist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan who is also linked to the banned terrorist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. He adds that he heard about his release and started "gathering people in the village" inciting them to attack Shahzad and his family. 

“As soon as Ladhar heard about my release on bail, he and his accomplices started gathering people in the village and instigating them to attack me and my family. He is doing his best to make us can never return to the village." 

Ladhar is said to have filed a complaint against the Christian as he is said to be "jealous" that he was given government land to build a church. Haroon Shahzad also points out that his family is "better off than most Christian families in the village" which could also have aroused Ladhar's anger. 

Shahzad's lawyer who is also director of The Voice Society, a Christian legal organization, said the case was a clear violation of Article 196 of the Code of Criminal Procedure which states that "the police cannot register a case against a private citizen without the approval of the provincial government or the federal agencies.”

According to the lawyer, "all allegations of blasphemy in Pakistan" concerning Christians systematically have the same characteristics:

“Faulty investigation, bad faith on the part of the police and the complainant, violent protests against the accused and threats against them and their families, forcing them to leave their ancestral areas, have become the hallmarks of all blasphemy allegations in Pakistan” .

Pakistan is ranked 7th in theGlobal Index of Persecution of Christians 2023 from the NGO Portes Ouvertes, which indicates that the country treats Christians "like second-class citizens" and that they "suffer the full brunt of anti-blasphemy laws". The NGO also specifies that “the number of accusations of blasphemy against Christians is constantly increasing”. 

Melanie Boukorras 

Image credit: Shutterstock / Tudoran Andrei

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