Christian and Muslim friends arrested in Faisalabad for blasphemy
by Shafique Khokhar

Muslim extremists have accused Shahbaz Masih and Muhammad Ishaq of burning pages of the Qurʼān over a “grudge” against the Christian. their respective families have had to flee out of fear and are hiding at a secret location.

Faisalabad (AsiaNews) – Two friends from Faisalabad, Pakistan, have been arrested on charges of blasphemy. 

Shahbaz Masih, a 40-year-old Christian, and Muhammad Ishaq, a 39-year-old Muslim were taken into custody on 27 December, two days after Christmas, and are still in prison.

As a result of the situation, their families have had to flee for security reasons and are now at a secret location.

Human Rights Focus Pakistan (HRFP) will represent both, providing legal, moral and other support to them, said HRFP president Naveed Walter, speaking to AsiaNews.

The two men are accused of offending the Prophet Muhammad under section 295-B of the Pakistani Criminal Code, one of the laws on blasphemy.

The case dates back to late 2019 but has not received any media coverage. Rights groups have complained about this lack of attention.

Walter said that his organisation will continue its efforts to repeal the blasphemy laws and practices, including the demand of changing the process in which the innocents become victimised whilst the complainants have no punishments, even after their allegations are proven false and due to personal grudges and vested interests.

In his community, Shahbaz is a well-known Christian. His accusers, Shahzaib and Ahmad, hold a grudge against him for being a Christian. On 27 December the two surrounded him at the market, dragged him to a nearby landfill where children collect paper, and beaten.

His screams drew the attention of his friend Ishaq, who came to his aid. At that point, the attackers accused both of blasphemy, of burning pages of the Qurʼān. A riot followed, with a nearby mosque calling on Muslims to kill both men.

When police arrived, it took the two friends to a police station, questioned them and moved them to a prison, where they are still being held.

Human rights groups slam the cops for giving in to extremist pressure and formally recording the case.

For their part, radicals threatened to burn the homes of Christians as well as that of the Muslim man, "guilty" of being friends with the Christian. For this reason, the families of the accused went into hiding at an unknown location.