According to his attorney, Aneeqa Maria, Haroon Shahzad, 45, was released from Sargodha District Jail on Nov. 15. They charged Shahzad with blasphemy on June 30 after posting Bible verses on Facebook that infuriated Muslims, causing dozens of Christian families in Chak 49 Shumaali, near Sargodha in Punjab Province, to flee their homes.
Haroon Shahzad, 45, was released from Sargodha District Jail on Nov. 15, said his attorney, Aneeqa Maria. Shahzad was charged with blasphemy on June 30 after posting Bible verses on Facebook that infuriated Muslims, causing dozens of Christian families in Chak 49 Shumaali, near Sargodha in Punjab Province, to flee their homes.
Lahore High Court Judge Ali Baqir Najfi granted bail on Nov. 6, but the decision and his release on Nov. 15 have not been made public until now due to security fears for his life, Maria said.
Though he was not tortured during incarceration, he said the pain of being away from his family and thinking about their well-being and safety gave him countless sleepless nights.
“All of this is because the complainant, Imran Ladhar, has widely shared my photo on social media and declared me liable for death for alleged blasphemy,” he said in a choked voice. “As soon as Ladhar heard about my bail, he and his accomplices started gathering people in the village and inciting them against me and my family. He’s trying his best to ensure we can never return to the village.”
Shahzad has met with his family only once since his release on bail, and he said he cannot return to their village in the future.
The Christian said the complainant, who claimed to be a member of the Islamist extremist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan and also purportedly connected with the banned terrorist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, filed the charge because of a grudge. Shahzad said he and his family had got valuable government land and allotted it for the construction of a church building. Ladhar and others had filed multiple cases against the allotment and lost all after a four-year legal battle.
“Another probable reason for Ladhar’s jealousy could be that we were financially better off than most Christian families in the village,” he said. “I was running a successful paint business in Sargodha city, but that too has shut down because of this case.”
Regarding the social media post, Shahzad said he had no intention of hurting Muslim sentiments by sharing the biblical verse on his Facebook page.
“I posted the verse a week before Eid Al Adha [the feast of the sacrifice), but I did not know that it would target me and my family,” he said. “When I learned Ladhar was provoking the villagers against me, I deleted the post and decided to meet the village elders to explain my position.”
Shahzad said that Ladhar had already influenced the village elders and refused to listen to him.
“They left me with no option but to flee the village when I heard Ladhar was amassing a mob to attack me,” he said.
Shahzad pleaded with government authorities for justice, saying they should not punish him for sharing a verse from the Bible that in no way made up blasphemy.
Similar to Other Cases
“Defective investigation, mala fide on the part of the police and complainant, violent protests against the accused persons, and threats to them and their families, forcing their displacement from their ancestral areas, have become hallmarks of all blasphemy allegations in Pakistan,” said Maria, head of The Voice Society, a Christian paralegal organization.
She said that the case filed against Shahzad was a gross violation of Section 196 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr PC), which states that police cannot register a case under the Section 295-A blasphemy statute against a private citizen without the approval of the provincial government or federal agencies.
“The social stigma attached to a blasphemy accusation will likely have a long-lasting impact on their lives, whereas his accuser, Imran Ladhar, would not have to face any consequence of his false accusation,” she said.
They set bail at 100,000 Pakistani rupees (US$350) and two personal sureties, and the judge ordered police to investigate further, she said.