Hundreds of Christian Families Flee Homes After Post Sparks Threat of Mob Violence
01/07/2020 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that a 25-year-old Christian leader in Pakistan was taken into police custody and charged with violating the country’s blasphemy laws after sharing a social media post critical of Islam in late December. According to local sources, the post incited the threat of mob violence that drove hundreds of Christian families to flee their homes.
“Pastor Raja Warris published a faith-based post on Facebook on December 22 which Muslims claim hurt their religious sentiments,” Saleem Khokhar, a displaced Christian from Charar, told ICC. “The pastor apologized for the post and the issue was resolved the next day.”
On December 26, hundreds of Muslims gathered in the Charar neighborhood of Lahore, where Pastor Warris resides, and threatened to behead the pastor and set fire to Christian homes unless police took action. Hundreds of Christian families fled their homes, fearing an outbreak of violence in Charar.
“The situation turned dangerous when someone found out the Muslims were planning to set fire to the houses of Christians,” Khokhar told ICC. “This forced the Christians to flee the neighborhood.”
Hundreds of anti-riot policemen were deployed to Charar to contain the mob. Leaders of the Christian community also met with police to resolve the escalating situation.
“We sought time for negotiation with the protest leaders, but the police said they could not guarantee the safety of our people if the accused was not presented for arrest,” Rev. Ayub Gujjar, Vice Moderator of the Raiwind Diocese of the Church of Pakistan, told Morning Star News. “We reluctantly agreed to bring Warris, but demanded that he be kept at an undisclosed location due to the serious threat to his life.”
On December 27, police charged Pastor Warris with committing blasphemy under Section 295-A and Section 298-A of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Copies of the First Information Report (FIR # 1122/20) were shown to the leaders of the mob in an effort to de-escalate the situation.
If convicted, Pastor Warris could face up to 10 years in prison for committing “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings.”
In Pakistan, false accusations of blasphemy are widespread and often motivated by personal vendettas or religious hatred. Accusations are highly inflammatory and have the potential to spark mob lynchings, vigilante murders, and mass protests.
Since Pakistan added Section 295-B and 295-C to the country’s blasphemy laws in 1987, the number of blasphemy accusations has skyrocketed. Between 1987 and 2017, 1,534 individuals in Pakistan have been accused of blasphemy. Out of that 1,534, 829 accusations (54%), were made against religious minorities. With Christians only making up 1.6% of Pakistan’s total population, the 238 accusations (15.5%) made against Christians are highly disproportionate.
Currently, 24 Christians are imprisoned on blasphemy charges in Pakistan. These 24 Christians are defendants in 21 blasphemy cases represented at various levels of the judicial process in Pakistan.
ICC’s Regional Manager, William Stark, said, “We here at International Christian Concern remain concerned by the situation in Charar. We call on Pakistani authorities to continue protect the homes of Charar’s Christians. Even though Pastor Warris has been officially charged with violating the blasphemy laws, there is still the potential for mob violence against the Christians of Charar. No one should be forced to flee their home because of a social media post. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws must not be misused to justify mob violence. Too often these laws have been a tool in the hands of extremists seeking to stir up religiously motivated violence against minority communities.”