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Anger as blasphemy case press conference is blocked in Pakistan

Church advocates say a false case against Christian nurses was registered under public pressure

Anger as blasphemy case press conference is blocked in Pakistan

The families of the Christian nurses accused of blasphemy meet Father Khalid Rashid (second right), former vicar general of Faisalabad Diocese, on April 9. (Photo: Father Khalid Rashid)

Catholic officials and lawyers in Pakistan are upset about not being allowed to a hold a press conference following the arrest of two Christian nurses for alleged blasphemy.

On April 9, staff nurse Mariam Lal and student nurse Newish Urooj were detained by police after a first information report under section 295-B of the blasphemy law was made by Dr. Mirza Muhammad Ali of Civil Hospital, Faisalabad, who accused them of scratching a sticker inscribed with “Durood Shareef,” a salutation for Prophet Muhammad.

“We strongly condemn the district administration of Faisalabad which unnecessarily interfered and misused their authority to postpone our press conference. The false case was registered under public pressure. We wanted to reveal new facts, demand legal action against troublemakers and demand justice,” the Minorities Alliance Pakistan said in a press release issued on social media on April 15.

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“The Catholic Diocese of Faisalabad wanted to join our legal wing to present the case to our nation and demand an end to misuse of blasphemy laws. It is illegal and unconstitutional to suppress our voices of truth and fairness.”

Following the cancellation of the conference, Father Abid Tanveer, vicar general of Faisalabad Diocese, held a meeting with lawyers from the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), the Church's human rights body in Pakistan.

The families of the nurses are in hiding

“The NCJP is providing legal aid to the victims and is presently preparing the paperwork as well as recording statements from the witnesses. The families of the nurses are in hiding. Even their neighbors have moved,” Father Tanveer told UCA News.

“The timely press conference was our right to speech. No protest was planned. We demand the formation of a committee at a divisional level to investigate the case. The state itself should become a party in blasphemy cases.”

Blasphemy is a highly sensitive issue in deeply conservative Pakistan where mere allegations have led to extrajudicial killings and mob violence.

The Muttahida Ulema Board, a government body, is reviewing the case of the Christian nurses.

“I am in contact with the Christian community and local administration. The decision will be as per law. We won’t allow the misuse of the blasphemy law. In the past six months, not once has the blasphemy law been misused as seen in the past,” said president Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi.

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