Pakistan’s lower house of parliament has passed legislation to make the country’s blasphemy laws stricter even as their blatant misuse again came to light in a threat to falsely charge a Christian woman.
The woman, a Catholic widow, was terrified after a Muslim colleague threatened to file the false blasphemy charge because she refused his demand to commit wrongdoing in their work, she said.
Samina Mushtaq, a security official with Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority, said a Muslim CAA facilities official, Muhammad Salim, on Jan. 7 demanded she allow an unauthorized vehicle into the parking area of the cargo terminal at Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport.
“Salim threatened to accuse me of blasphemy when I refused to surrender to his illegal demand,” she told Morning Star News. “He said he would call clerics and cut me up.”
Mushtaq began video-recording Salim’s threats as proof that she was being falsely accused if he acted on his threats, she said, adding that she uploaded the video on social media.
Christians under pressure
The CAA initiated an inquiry and temporarily suspended Salim from duty.
“I don’t know what would have become of me had I not recorded Salim’s threats on my phone and shared the video on social media,” Mushtaq said by telephone. “This is not the first time I’ve faced challenges at my workplace due to my Christian faith, but when Salim openly threatened to entrap me in a blasphemy case when I was only doing my job, I have become very fearful about the security of my family.”
Mushtaq said she is under intense pressure from Muslims to reach a “reconciliation” agreement with Salim. Such agreements usually further deprive members of minority religions of rights.
The Pakistan National Assembly’s passage on Jan. 17 of legislation that would expand blasphemy statutes has raised fears among Christians and rights activists. The unanimously passed Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill would increase punishment for insulting the companions, wives and family members of Islam’s prophet, Muhammad, from three years to no fewer than 10 years along with a fine of 1 million rupees (US$4,314).
The legislation, under Section 298-A of the Pakistan Penal Code, also would make the charge of blasphemy an offense for which bail is not possible. The legislation is expected to pass unanimously also in the Senate, and then it would require the president’s signature to become law.
Anglican Church of Pakistan Moderator/President Azad Marshall said the lower chamber’s unanimous approval of the legislation was worrisome for Pakistani Christians.
“The existing blasphemy laws have encouraged religious persecution for decades, and this new legislation is bound to exacerbate the problems for our people,” Marshall told Morning Star News.
Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, up from either the previous year.