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Another Christian mother charged with blasphemy in Pakistan

Country/Region: Pakistan, South and East Asia

A young Christian mother has been charged with blasphemy in Pakistan after she refused to convert to Islam at the insistence of some of her relatives.

Shamim Bibi (26), who has a three-month-old daughter, was arrested on 28 February and charged under section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which prescribes a mandatory death sentence for “defiling the name of Muhammad”.

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She was accused by neighbours of making blasphemous remarks against Muhammad while standing in her courtyard in Khichiwala, Bahawalnagar district, Punjab province. The accusation was made three days after Shamim’s sister-in-law, nephew and niece converted to Islam and tried to force her to do likewise.

Shamim’s brother Ilyas Masih said, “She refused, telling them that she was satisfied with Christianity and did not want to convert.”

It appears that Shamim’s sister-in-law then told some local Muslims that the Christian woman had insulted Muhammad, and they subsequently reported the false allegation to the village prayer leader. He in turn lodged a blasphemy complaint against Shamim with the police.

The accusation prompted a large number of villagers to descend on Shamim’s house, demanding “severe punishment” for the young woman.

Shamim’s family believe that she was framed for blasphemy because of her refusal to renounce her faith. One of the named witnesses has admitted to not actually being present at the scene at the time the alleged incident took place.

Shamim’s brother-in-law Shahbaz Masih has also questioned the reliability of the other witness, who drives a motorcycle rickshaw. Shahbaz said:

[He] transports schoolchildren and could not have been in his house at the time of the incident as it was just after school closing hours.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are often used against Christians and other non-Muslims; they are particularly vulnerable to malicious, false accusation, as there is a tendency for the judiciary in the lower courts to believe the word of a Muslim over the word of a non-Muslim, in line with the teachings of sharia.

The high-profile case of Christian mother Aasia Bibi, who remains on death row for blasphemy, threw an international spotlight on the pernicious laws, but despite calls for reform, nothing has changed and false accusations are continuing to destroy the lives of innocent Christians.

Though no-one has yet been executed for blasphemy, some of those accused have been murdered by zealous Muslims, and sometimes their relatives and communities have also been attacked. Many of those charged have spent months or years in custody while their cases are considered.

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