Despite an ordered media blackout by authorities, a new blasphemy case in Pakistan has gained worldwide attention for the violent and sexual abuse of those accused at the hands of their government interrogators.
Two young Christian men, Patras Masih, 18, and his cousin, Sajid Masih 24, were accused of sharing an image on Facebook considered sacrilegious by Muslims.
As word got out, a mob made up of members of the extremist Islamist political party, Tehreek-e-Labiak Ya Rasool Allah (TLK), blocked all entrances to Lahore and demanded Patras (accused of being the main perpetrator) be beheaded. Extremists also congregated in front of Patras’ home, waiting to lynch him.
Armed with gasoline, the mob threatened to burn down the 1,500 Christian houses in the area, causing some 1,000 Christians to flee.
The police, with the help of other law enforcement agencies, were able to disperse the crowd after promising the most severe blasphemy charges would be levied against Patras. Those charges carry a mandatory death sentence.
In 2016, a similar charge was made against a Christian man, Nabeel Masih, who was accused of “liking a Facebook post seemed insulting to Islam.” Such an “insult” falls under the blasphemy law that carries a punishment of 10 years in prison. However, because of the demands of a violent mob, he was charged with the most severe form of blasphemy as well.
Police officers arrested Patras and Sajid, but their interrogation was conducted not only by the police and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) officers, but a large number of TLK party officials, who mainly served to scream at the young men.
During the investigation, Sajid suddenly jumped out the window of the multi-storied building, a fall which broke his legs and jaw and left him in critical condition.
Although he was not expected to live, after a number of hours, he regained consciousness and released a video statement detailing the harrowing treatment he and his cousin received at the hands of their interrogators.
On the video (see below), Sajid related:
“[The FIA officers] demanded my attendance at their headquarters to check my mobile phone.
“They used this pretext to take me to a bathroom where they started to beat me.
“They confiscated my mobile phone as part of their investigation, checked it and then started beating me again.
“I asked why they were beating me, what have I done that was wrong? They started roundly beating me again and told me they were hitting me because I was the ‘cousin of that boy’ [Patras].
“They told us to insult each other by using the word laanti (men under a curse). My frightened young cousin complied under great duress.
“They then asked me to remove my cousin’s trousers and perform oral sex on him. I refused outright…[which] made them angry. They then started shouting loudly at both of us. I saw a window in the room and quickly jumped out of it.
“After this, [the FIA officers] downstairs asked why I had jumped from the window, at the time I was semi-conscious. But I could hear everything.
“Khalid Saeed [the FIA sub-Inspector] took me there [to FIA headquarters]. No evidence of any crime was found on my phone”
After his statement, an investigation into the violence and sexual abuse during the investigation was launched by the federal minister for the Interior Department, although Pakistani’s Christians hold little faith in such an inquiry.
In addition, a separate police case was registered against Sajid for attempting to commit suicide.
On the instructions of the Pakistani government, the media did not cover this atrocity due to tensions with the United States, which has put Pakistan on a special watch list for increasing violence against religious minorities in the country.
Also, there is fear that Pakistan could be included in FATF (Financial Action Task Force) black or grey list for money laundering and supporting extremist organizations.
Further, the government fears reprisals by the European Union, which is not eager to renew Pakistan’s GPS-plus status (Generalized System of Preferences) for free trade to EU countries unless Asia Bibi, a Christian blasphemy victim suffering in Pakistan jail for the last eight years and sentenced to death, is released.
It is time for the international community to stand with Pakistan’s religious minorities. Pressures such as these can be effective in fighting Pakistan’s archaic and discriminatory blasphemy laws.