Twist on Blasphemy in Pakistan

News: World News
by Fabian Gomes  •  •  June 11, 2021   

Catholics, not Muslims, cite desecration punishable by death

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LAHORE, Pakistan ( - Catholics are turning the tables on Muslims in a country where blasphemy laws are primarily used for Christian persecution.

Jannat Mirza

Catholics have filed a blasphemy complaint with Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), accusing the country's most popular TikToker, Jannat Mirza — a Muslim, actress, model and social influencer — of insulting the Christian cross in Lahore. Blasphemy, a crime forbidden by Pakistani law, is defined as showing contempt, disrespect or lack of reverence for a deity, sacred object or something considered inviolable.

The 23-year-old social media star has avoided social platforms since she uploaded videos last week of her wearing a silver cross on a chain dangling from her waist. Her act offended millions of Christians in Pakistan. As a result, on May 28, Catholic Raja Walter and three other Christians filed a blasphemy case complaint against her.

Walters' complaint stated, "Mirza has intentionally desecrated a cross, the holy sign of Christians. She has hurt the religious feelings of millions of Pakistani Christians. She should be punished and arrested."

Mirza, who is one of the most admired and followed TikTok celebrities in Pakistan, recently surpassed 15.2 million followers, eclipsing even longtime celebrities of Pakistan's entertainment industry.  

Recognizing a Double Standard  

After Christians protested, Mirza removed the videos in which she wore the cross. In addition to demands for legal redress, Christian social media users expressed anger and have demanded that Mirza be punished. 

Najam Bhatti, a Christian from Lahore, told Church Militant, "If any Christian female did like Jannat Mirza to offend Muslim sentiment, she would be in jail. Mirza must be punished. By offending Christians, she acted stupidly."

Police didn't arrest Mirza; being a Muslim, she is enjoying favoritism. The country's law should be equal for all.

He also observed: "Police didn't arrest Mirza; being a Muslim, she is enjoying favoritism. The country's law should be equal for all." 

Another man, from Karachi, posted on Facebook, "If a Christian had done it, they would set his house and children on fire. Woe on this law." 

Complainants Want Apology Adjudicated 

Mirza apologized to Christians on June 5 via a video posted on TikTok. She said in the video:

Christian fans and friends, I had received the chain [with the cross on it] in a PR package few days ago. My intention was never to hurt anyone, I found out through the comment section of my videos after posting them that the chain I'm wearing on my waist has a Christian amulet and I deleted the videos instantly after. It was my fault and I am accepting my mistake. 

However, Saleem Sylvester, one of the complainants, rejected her apology.

The chairman of the Pakistani Christian Association of USA explains Pakistani blasphemy law

He told media, "She should face the court, beg for forgiveness and then she may explore our Christian theology of forgiveness. This procedure must come on record." 

Blasphemy: Pakistan's Persecution Tactic 

Muslim TikTokers often insult Christians and their Faith, but they are not punished under Pakistani law. Last year, in November, Nimra Ali, another TikTok star, apologized for using a derogatory term for her Christian maid. 

On the other hand, Christians are often persecuted pursuant to Pakistan's blasphemy legislation, which allows for life imprisonment or the death penalty. That has typically been applied only for insulting Muhammad, Islam or the Koran because Islam is the state religion; indeed, more than 96% of the citizens there are Muslims.

Asia Bibi

Though no one has ever been executed for blasphemy, the Lahore-based Center for Social Justice notes that 78 people, 23 of whom were Christians, were killed extrajudicially from 1987–2020 after allegations of blasphemy and apostasy. Among those killed were the accused, their family members, their lawyers and judges who acquitted the accused of the crime.

For example, a Punjab governor was killed by his guard in 2011 after he defended a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who was accused of blasphemy. After spending eight years on death row, she was acquitted and left Pakistan for Canada to join her family after receiving threats. 

Blasphemy allegations in Pakistan are often to intimidate religious minorities and to settle personal scores.

Christian father of four Asif Pervaiz, for example, was fined and sentenced to death for sending a text message to his boss that resisted conversion to Islam. Christian activists held a hunger strike in protest.

Also, after eight years on death row for blasphemy charges, Catholic couple Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar were acquitted by the Lahore high court on June 3 for lack of evidence. The illiterate couple had been accused of sending a text message blaspheming Muhammad. The couple lived in poverty with their four children. Despite being in a wheelchair due to a spinal injury, Kausar had been the only member of the family working.

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