PAKISTAN: Christian attacked by mob over blasphemy accusations dies from injuries

Nova Kruijning | Maastricht U. Faculty of Law, NL

Jurist News (04.06.2024) – A Pakistani Christian who was attacked by a mob last month after being accused of blasphemy has succumbed to his injuries, local media reported Monday. Nazir Masih, 72, sustained severe head injuries during the May 25 attack and underwent two surgeries before his death. He was buried in Sargodha, a city in Pakistan’s Punjab province.

Masih was injured after more than 100 men attacked him and his son over allegations they desecrated pages of the Holy Qur’an, Islam’s holy book. Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws, introduced in the country in the 1980s, prohibit the insulting of Islam. Anyone found guilty of violating these laws can be sentenced to death.

Local media say police have registered cases against 500 people for their attack on Masih, his son, and their home. The identities of the suspects have not yet been disclosed, but participants in the mob reportedly belong to Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a far-right party known for its radical extremist ideologies and violent protests against any change to the blasphemy law in Pakistan. The group previously registered a blasphemy case against Masih.

The incident exposes the plight of religious minorities in Pakistan, where 96.47 percent of the population identifies as Muslim and Christians make up only 1.27 percent of the country’s population. Christan groups say the community is routinely subjected to religious persecution—including large-scale abductions, physical violence, and societal discrimination. In April, Christian teenagerAshbeel Baber Ghouri was arrested on charges of blasphemy after criticizing plural marriage and polygamy, which is permitted by certain interpretations of the Islamic faith, during a discussion with his Muslim friend.

In the wake of the attack and Masih’s death, Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) Chairman Hafiz Ashrafi expressed his deep grief over the killing, calling the attack “unlawful” and “illegal” and demanding justice for Masih and his family. The Ulema Council is a Muslim organization whose members include Islamic clerics and legal scholars from a range of Islamic traditions. Commenting on Masih’s death, Ashrafi said that Muslim citizens and the state have a duty to protect non-Muslims in Pakistan.

Additionally, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) released a fact-finding report discussing the May 25 mob violence incident. The HRCP found that it was “highly likely” that the May 25 attack was targeted against Nazir Masih’s family, beginning as a personal dispute that was “given a religious color” to “exact maximum leverage:”

Despite the death of Nazir Masih, the Punjab government has attempted to downplay the incident by reportedly discouraging press coverage and failing to condemn the incident unequivocally. We have seen this pattern of violence before. We should not have to see it again and again.

Further reading about FORB in Pakistan on HRWF website