Supporters of religious group Aalmi Majlis Tahaffuz Khatm-e-Nubuwwat march during a rally in Peshawar in July 2020 in support of Khalid Khan, who shot dead a man accused of blasphemy in a courtroom. (Photo: AFP)
Catholic priests and nuns at a recent debate on minority rights urged Christians in Pakistan to avoid demanding the repeal of blasphemy laws.
“It is impossible to abolish blasphemy laws. Our struggle to end it will fail. It is wrong to raise such slogans. It creates unrest. We are heralds of hope but we should not give false hope to others. People don’t listen,” said Father Khalid Rashid Asi, director of the Diocesan Commission for Harmony and Interfaith Dialogue in Faisalabad Diocese.
“If I speak openly, my family and people will be burned. What role can a pastor play here? The courts are silent; the political leaders are helpless and nobody listens to cultured society in this regard. The situation has become very difficult. Inflaming such issues makes them go out of control.
“We must educate our people about surviving in government departments. We can only learn to manage the blasphemy laws. We have to learn to live with it and avoid this death. But we must discuss its misuse with radical groups and the government. Police officers and magistrates must seek a way to seek truth with reconciliation.”
Father Asi was one of the panelists at a May 8 program organized by Minority Concern Pakistan in remembrance of Bishop John Joseph of Faisalabad, who killed himself on May 6, 1998, in front of the courthouse in Sahiwal after a Christian, Ayub Masih, was sentenced to death for blasphemy.
Dominican Sister Naseem George, former president of the Major Superiors' Leadership Conference Justice and Peace Commission, also rejected any possibility of repealing blasphemy laws.
This pressure has made it difficult to breathe
“My first thought is it’s impossible. Mob vigilantes have spread fear and harassment; it has become a cultural approach. People just go wild. Even police can’t control them. This pressure has made it difficult to breathe. But we hope for better times. Our society needs to be decent,” she said.
According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, police data shows that at least 586 persons were booked on charges of blasphemy in 2020, with the overwhelming majority from Punjab.
According to the 2021 annual report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, conditions in Pakistan continue to worsen as “the government systematically enforced blasphemy and anti-Ahmadiyya laws and failed to protect religious minorities from abuses by non-state actors.”
Blasphemy has been a sensitive issue in Pakistan. Church leaders and human rights groups say blasphemy allegations have often been used to intimidate religious minorities and settle personal scores.