"Pakistan was to review its harsh blasphemy laws. It has made them even harsher," according to a report from this month. "The National Assembly has unanimously passed an amendment to the laws that widens the net and makes punishment more stringent under these laws... The blasphemy laws are often misused in Pakistan to settle personal scores. It is also used to persecute its small minorities." [Emphasis in the original]
Recently in Pakistan, however, an encouraging sign emerged: an interesting uproar on social media about a Christian female security officer who bravely stood up to a Muslim colleague threatening her with a false accusation of blasphemy .
Samina Mushtaq was working at her job with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in Karachi when her colleague insisted that a car be allowed to be parked within the perimeter.
When she refused on the grounds that he did not have the necessary permission, he started intimidating and threatening her, and saying that he would accuse her of committing blasphemy and kill her.
Thankfully, Mushtaq recorded the entire conversation on her smartphone and the video went viral on January 5. It is likely that her quick thinking saved her life -- and more than that, they have shone an important light on how brazenly Pakistan's blasphemy laws are misused for personal agendas, even trivial ones.
It is to the CAA's credit that they are taking action against Mushtaq's colleague and have launched an investigation into the incident. This investigation needs to be thorough, impartial and concluded promptly rather than be allowed to drag on endlessly and eventually swept under the carpet. The CAA also needs to have the courage to take any necessary action against the man in question.
Mushtaq, too, must be brave, because Muslim leaders will no doubt put pressure on their Christian counterparts to persuade her to pardon her colleague so that the matter will be dropped and that she will not file a criminal complaint against him.
Ultimately, it is up to her, but there is a bigger issue at stake than the goings-on of the CAA and its employees: the constant misuse of the blasphemy laws against innocent Christians.
As Mushtaq's case shows, this sword can be wielded at any moment, without warning, with potentially deadly consequences for the accused. It is not a laughing matter. The country's legislators need to take it seriously and bring forward serious legislation that will finally put a stop to false accusations of blasphemy.
It is not as if we haven't been here before. Sadly, we have been here many, many times and it is always the same story. A disgruntled Muslim does not get his (or her) way, so uses the blasphemy laws to take matters into his own hands and settle a petty dispute, all because he knows that he can do so with impunity.
Those who make false accusations do not care that innocent Christians may end up dead or in miserable prison conditions for years on end or be forced into hiding with their entire family, not knowing what will become of them, all the while in fear for their lives.
Worse, some are prepared to murder under the cover of religion and become -- a hero. Often such criminals escape the law because their criminal acts are not just ignored, but supported and hailed by the public and the elites, with very few if these murderers ever being brought to justice.
This is a scenario that Tabita, a Christian nurse and gospel singer, knows all too well. She had been working at the Sobhraj Maternity Hospital in Karachi for nine years when, in 2021, her colleagues tied her up and locked her in a room after accusing her of blasphemy. Police officers took her into custody and after investigating, concluded that the charges against her were baseless; simply the result of a misunderstanding between colleagues. Despite being cleared of all charges, she was still forced to go into hiding, perhaps for the rest of her life.
The same year, Christian nurses Maryam Lal and Navish Arooj were accused of blasphemy for supposedly removing an Islamic sticker from a cupboard in Faisalabad's Civil Hospital. Police registered a case against them despite it being known that the accuser had verbally abused both nurses and attacked Lal with a knife. Unsurprisingly, the accuser continues to work at the hospital and has been hailed a hero, while Lal and Arooj live in hiding.
In a similar case, three Christian nurses at the Punjab Institute of Mental Health in Lahore, were falsely accused of blasphemy. Sakina Bibi, Jessica Khurram and Treeza Eric were accused after one of the nurses shared a video of someone speaking about the Islamist Tehreek-e-Labaik Party in a staff WhatsApp group. Some Muslim nurses reacted by desecrating the hospital chapel, and threatening to convert it into a mosque. Peace was only restored after local Muslim and Christian leaders intervened. No action was taken against the Muslim nurses.
Again and again, we see the victims being treated as criminals by those in positions of authority while the perpetrators are let off scot-free and even hailed as heroes. All the while, politicians who actually have the power to change this state of affairs refuse even to discuss the matter in Parliament. When people such as M. P. Bhandara and Sherry Rehman dare to speak up, they receive the inevitable death threats. For Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, Christian Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti and human rights lawyer Rashid Rehman, these death threats were carried out.
Pakistan was genuinely shaken to the core by the vigilante lynching of Sri Lankan factory manager Piryantha Kumara in Sialkot over blasphemy allegations. Even Pakistan's prime minister at the time, Imran Khan, called the murder "horrific;" a "day of shame for Pakistan;" promised that he would personally oversee the investigation, and that those responsible would be "punished with full severity of the law". Yet, even though in that case six of the perpetrators were sentenced to death -- a sentence that has not yet been carried out -- here we still are with nothing done to change what truly is the shame of Pakistan. The law still is as it is: innocent people continue to be accused of blasphemy and killed.
Going back to Samina Mushtaq, thanks to her quick thinking, she is still with us and lucky to be alive. Christians need to be grateful for the way in which she courageously brought the truth about blasphemy to the forefront and stirred up a national debate. We need much more of it. Lawmakers need to change the laws before more unjust killings.