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Punishing the Powerless

by Newsweek Pakistan

File Photo. Asif Hassan—AFP

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have claimed yet another victim

On Feb. 25, 18-year-old Christian Patras Masih from Lahore’s Shahdara locality was accused by the local Muslim community of blasphemy and was arrested and thrown in jail. During investigation, which can be pretty brutal under the Blasphemy Law especially if the victim is non-Muslim, Masih tried to save his life by accusing another fellow-Christian Sajid Masih of the same offense. Sajid, a poor janitor, was summoned by the police.

According to Sajid, after his arrival at the building of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on Temple Road in Lahore, “he was tortured and forced to perform sex with his cousin Patras by some officials of the agency.” Rather than acquiesce, the boy jumped from the FIA building and landed up with multiple fractures. The minimum punishment for blasphemy is death therefore one can understand why the two boys were treated they way they were. Once accused of blasphemy it is normally assumed that the victim has to die. If he is a non-Muslim and found innocent he can expect to spend a lifetime in jail. This largely applies to Christians, the most downtrodden and deprived population of Pakistan’s Punjab province.

The FIA account of what transpired understandably differs but it will carry the day before the magistrate when the case comes up for trial. No court will easily let the victim walk if he is innocent and a non-Muslim. The judge’s life can be in danger if he allows justice to take place. He is more likely to hand down death and expect the poor non-Muslim to go in appeal. Such cases tend to hang fire till they reach the Supreme Court. Many such cases have become internationally recognized as the outcome of a cruel discriminatory law that Pakistan can’t take off its Penal Code.

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