False accusations of blasphemy, forced marriages, and social hostility face Christians in Pakistan, where many view non-Muslims as a lower class and not even Pakistani, according to International Christian Concern’s William Stark.
Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy law makes it illegal to speak against Islam. Todd Nettleton, director of media development at Voice of the Martyrs, said the law is used as a weapon. Worst of all, accusers don’t need any proof. There are no consequences for false accusations, but anyone accused is arrested and imprisoned during the investigation.
Although Pakistan has never executed anyone for blasphemy, vigilantes frequently entrap and sometimes kill those accused. They have created a climate of fear, forcing frightened judges into holding court sessions inside jails and keeping witnesses from coming to defend the accused. Two prominent politicians who criticized the law were murdered in recent years.
Human Rights Watch said in its 2014 report that “abuses are rife under the country’s abusive blasphemy law, which is used against religious minorities, often to settle personal disputes.”
Stark said these cases have been going on since the blasphemy law was enacted in 1986, but are more publicized today. Extremists now disproportionately accuse Christians of blasphemy. In 2013, 12 Christians were officially accused of blasphemy—one-third of all blasphemy accusations that year, Stark said. Yet Christians make up only 2.5 percent of the population.
Tariq, a Christian, is currently in hiding after authorities charged him with blasphemy. He said the charges came after he quarreled with two customers who bought faulty firecrackers from him. When he refused to apologize, he said the customers went to police in Lahore and told them he had stuffed the firecrackers with pages torn from the Quran, a lie.
Even if a court declares someone innocent of blasphemy, radicals will often try to kill the accused. “You essentially have to go into hiding for the rest of your life,” Stark said.
In addition to being charged with blasphemy, Christian women fear rape, forced conversion, and marriage to Muslims. Less than a month ago, Christian Samariya Nadeem was kidnapped and forcibly converted to marry a Muslim, according to Asia News. Fr. Haroon James, a priest in Lahore, told Asia News it is “very common in the region.”
Even when women manage to return to their families “typically there are threats that they’ll send the radicals to hurt or kill you,” Stark said.