Lahore: fear and angst among relatives of a woman arrested for blasphemy
by Jibran Khan
Shamim Masih has been in custody for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Local sources say she is being punished for refusing to convert to Islam. Her relatives are keeping silent for fear of retaliation. For Islamabad bishop, this is another case of abuse against Christians using the 'black law'.

Lahore (AsiaNews) - The relatives of Shamim Masih, a 26-year-old Christian woman from the Punjab, are terrified and scared after she was arrested on blasphemy charges. The mother of a five-month girl, she was taken into custody in Bahawalnagar, Lahore, on 28 February for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad. The accusation came from some of her relatives who recently converted to Islam. When she turned down their request to follow them and insisted that she was happy as a Christian, they reacted violently, first proffering threats and then accusing her of blasphemy.

Masih's family has been going through hell since then and has chosen not to make any statements to the press for fear of exacerbating tensions and provoke a reprisal by extremist groups.

For its part, the Catholic Church has condemned the latest case involving the 'black law', which occurred on the same day that 50 human rights activists and political figures appealed to the United Nations for Asia Bibi's release. For Mgr Rufin Anthony, bishop of Islamabad/Rawalpindi, "this is shocking news." Once more, "the blasphemy law is being misused in Punjab," he lamented.

When a Christian institution, a church, Bibles or a statue of our Mother Mary are desecrated in Lahore, the incident is not filed under the blasphemy law even when the evidence is there.

However, if a minor unsubstantiated incident involves a Christian woman, the police very zealously files a case under Article 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code.

For the prelate, "law enforcement agencies now have a duty to ensure order and justice for the woman."

Fr John Mell, an activist in Multan, is angered by the incident. For him, this case is a "huge violation" of the blasphemy law, which is being used indiscriminately against minorities.

"The government of Punjab is a silent observer" to what is happening. It "is allowing the law to be misused." Time has come "for us to raise out voice. Otherwise, we shall be silenced forever."