Zaki Masih is a Christian and was arrested by the Sargodha police. A land dispute is the real reason for the complaint; even the imam came to his defense. Minority rights activists in Pakistan are increasingly concerned about the escalation of religiously motivated accusations in the country.
Sargodha () – Sargodha police have arrested a Christian accused of blasphemy for sharing a post on Facebook. This new arrest “for blasphemy” – in addition to dozens of arrests of members of the Ahmadi Muslim religious community – has raised the level of concern among activists for the rights of minorities in the country and they ask the authorities to address the problem of misuse of blasphemy laws, which have become tools for resolving disputes and personal vendettas.
Zaki Masih, a 35-year-old Christian, was arrested by police in Sargodha, a city halfway between Islamabad and Lahore, on July 8. The charges against him were brought by Muhammad Awais, a Muslim neighbor, for “deliberate and aggressive acts intended to outrage religious sentiments of any class by insulting their religion or religious beliefs.” This offense carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a fine. Police intervened despite the fact that the imam of the town’s mosque and other Muslims in the neighborhood also sided with Zaki, saying the man’s social media post did not disrespect any religion. On the other hand, it was not even an “original” message from Masih, but a publication shared by another person – by the way, a Muslim – in which those who commit food fraud were criticized. The family believes that the accusation is the result of an old land dispute – won by Zaki – with people who still hold grudges, despite reconciliation efforts promoted by the village elders.
At the time of this case, Joseph Jansen, a minority rights activist, expressed his deep concern about the increasing number of complaints and arrests for blasphemy targeting mainly members of religious minorities, and called on the authorities to tackle the misuse of the laws against blasphemy. Jansen also urged people to be careful when using social media platforms and to take steps to protect themselves from possible “evidence” against them for blasphemy. Ashik Naz, a human rights activist, explained that “between 300 and 400 people, including young children, have been forced to flee their homes due to false accusations of blasphemy against a family member.”