A Christian man and his family are currently shuffling in secrecy from hiding place to hiding place in their native Pakistan after a neighbor accused them of blasphemy for sharing a Bible passage on Facebook, the British Asian Christian Association (BACA) denounced on Wednesday.
The man in question, Haroon Shahzad, was arrested and charged with the crime of blasphemy in Punjab, Pakistan, but the Pakistani justice system dropped charges against him after finding no evidence that the Bible verse in question was intended to offend Muslims, Mohammed, or Islam generally. Pakistan, a Sharia state, punishes blasphemy with prison time and its penal code calls for the execution of those charged with blasphemy against Mohammed himself.
The Pakistani state has never executed anyone convicted of blasphemy. Islamist mobs, however, often organized through loudspeaker announcements from mosques, routinely kill Christians accused of “blasphemy,” from insulting Muhammad to allegedly desecrating the Quran. Accusations of blasphemy often lead to the looting and destruction of entire Christian communities with little police intervention.
In some cases, police arrest Christians accused of blasphemy, allegedly to protect them from street justice. Even on those occasions, cases have occurred where mobs of hundreds of people have stormed the police station, extracted the accused, and lynched them.
According to BACA, which works to aid the minority Christian community in Pakistan, Shahzad shared 1st Corinthians chapter 10: 18–22 on Facebook, which reads:
But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.
Neighbors reportedly took offense at the verse because it was posted a week before Eid al-Adha, known as the “feast of sacrifice.” Muslims often celebrate the holiday by sacrificing animals for the feast.
“My family has been on the run from the time I was implicated in this false charge and arrested by the police under mob pressure,” Shahzad told Morning Star News, an outlet that covers Christian persecution around the world, in late November. He noted that his family had split up into hiding to avoid being lynched.
The original criminal complaint was filed by a Muslim neighbor, Imran Ladhar, who Shahzad said “widely shared my photo on social media and declared me liable for death for alleged blasphemy.”
“As soon as Ladhar heard about my bail, he and his accomplices started gathering people in the village and incited them against me and my family. He’s trying his best to ensure that we are never able to go back to the village,” he added.
The charges were filed in June and subsequently dismissed, but the Pakistani Sharia courts finding no blasphemy has not halted the threats against the Christian man and his family.
According to BACA, “dozens” of Christians in the village in question were forced to flee, fearing that Muslims would kill them if they could not access Shahzad and his family.
Christian persecution is common in Pakistan and often met with impunity. In a recent example of anti-Christian violence, a mob estimated to number above 10,000 Muslim men attacked a Christian community in Jaranwala, Pakistan, in August, burning down churches and homes and leaving “tens of thousands” of Christians homeless, according to BACA. The mob convened after a Muslim local accused a Christian identified as Saleem Masih of desecrating a copy of the Quran. The accusers offered no evidence that such a desecration ever took place.
“Images on social media showed smoke rising from the church buildings and people setting fire to furniture that had been dragged from them. A Christian cemetery was also vandalised, as well as the local government office,” the Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported in August.
Words fail me as I write this. We, Bishops, Priests and lay people are deeply pained and distressed at the Jaranwala incident in the Faisalabad District in Pakistan. A church building is being burnt as I type this message. Bibles have been desecrated and Christians have been… pic.twitter.com/xruE83NPXL
— Bishop Azad Marshall (@BishopAzadM) August 16, 2023
Churches vandalised in Faisalabad’s Jaranwala over blasphemy allegations: police https://t.co/hBEEXlagwa
— Imran Gabol (@gabolizm) August 16, 2023
In February, a mob of 800 people beat a man of unknown religious background, identified as Muhammad Waris, to death after rumors began circulating that he had engaged in “witchcraft” and desecrated a Quran.
Total madness!!! An angry mob attacked the police station in Nankana Sahib. Reportedly an accused of blasphemy was killed and body burnt by the mob. Apparently police was unable to control the situation. pic.twitter.com/1kdNGFmqro
— Shiraz Hassan (@ShirazHassan) February 11, 2023
Police arrested Waris over the allegations, but the mob attacked the police station, dragged Waris out of a hole in the roof, and beat him to death.