Authorities say they are consulting with local Muslim clerics and Christian elders.
Police have arrested three Christian men under terrorism laws for using the word “prophet” to describe a dead pastor on a poster, officials said Thursday.
The men were arrested in Gujrat, Punjab, after police spotted posters marking the 20th anniversary of the death of priest Fazal Masih that used the Urdu word for prophet to refer to him.
In Pakistan, the word is used only for Islamic prophets and anyone claiming to be one is liable to be charged under blasphemy laws, which can carry the death penalty.
“We have arrested three men, including the son of the priest, because they used the word prophet for the late Fazal Masih,” said local police station chief Shahid Tanveer. He said officers had summoned local Muslim clerics and elders of the Christian community to the police station to consult them on the matter.
The Christians organizing the event apologized and asked forgiveness, saying they had used the word to celebrate Masih’s services to religion, but the Muslim clerics refused to accept the apology, he added.
Tanveer said that a case under anti-terrorism laws had been registered against the organizer and three men had been arrested while 11 others were at large. He did not explain why terrorism charges were brought, though the legislation is often used in sensitive and high profile cases as it gives access to a fast-track trial process.
Christians, who make up around two percent of Pakistan’s mostly Muslim population of 180 million, have been increasingly targeted in recent years, often over allegations of profanity regarding the Quran or Islam’s Prophet. Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in Pakistan, with even unproven allegations often prompting mob violence, and acquittals in court are rare.