In another blasphemy case, Pakistan archbishop credits authorities with fast action to protect Christians

Archbishop Shah credits the effectiveness of the response by the authorities to the fall-out of the attacks on two churches in Lahore March 15, 2015.

By Marta Petrosillo

ROME—"When a Muslim is accused of blasphemy, it is just that individual who pays the consequences. But if a Christian is accused, the entire Christian community is held responsible." Bad as the anti-blasphemy law is, said the archbishop of Lahore, Pakistan, this makes matters even worse.

Archbishop Sebastian Francis Shah spoke with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need about the May 24 incident in Sanda, a mainly Christian quarter in one of the country’s largest cities:

A young Christian man, Humayun Faisal Masih, was accused of blasphemy after burning some pages of a newspaper alleged to have contained verses of the Koran. Shortly afterward, an enraged crowd rampaged through the Christian neighborhood. "According to certain witnesses, the boy was just tidying up the house,” Archbishop Shah said, but added that “it is not yet clear exactly what happened. Yesterday our priority was to protect the people of the quarter, and we didn't have time to verify the validity of the accusations.” The prelate is determined to investigate the matter further.

Archbishop Sebastian Francis Shah of Lahore.jpg

The archbishop was alerted to the incident on Sunday evening, when the crowd had just blocked the traffic in the ancient Christian quarter, setting fire to tires and throwing stones at Christian homes. The inhabitants immediately left their homes, fearing the worst.

"I immediately requested help from some Muslim leaders and local politicians. Thanks to their intervention, the police succeeded in dispersing the crowd by midnight. It is the first time the government has succeeded in acting in time to save both the people and their homes."

Archbishop Shah credits the effectiveness of the response by the authorities to the fall-out of the attacks on two churches in Lahore March 15, 2015. "Since then I have maintained close relations with politicians and representatives of the local Muslim community. It was their support that has enabled us to avert the worst."

Humayun has been formally charged with blasphemy under Article 295b of the Pakistani constitution. This, together with Article 295c, constitutes the so-called "anti-blasphemy laws" that carry a penalty of life imprisonment for anyone who "profanes" the Koran. According to local sources, the young man is mentally retarded – but this does not constitute a mitigating factor under Pakistani law.

Dr. Shahid Mobeen, a professor at the Pontifical Lateran University and author of a well-received book on the subject, said that "the law takes no account of the intention on the part of the accused. In order to be convicted it sufficient to drop a copy of the Koran or accidentally tread on a page of a newspaper on which are printed verses of the Koran, the sacred book of Islam.

"And yet only 5 percent of Pakistanis even understand Arabic—consequently 95 percent of the population could easily commit blasphemy without even realizing it."

ACN photo: Archbishop Shah

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