Sun. Jul 21st, 2024

Christian Woman in Pakistan Jailed on Blasphemy ChargesChristian Woman in Pakistan Jailed on Blasphemy Charges

The family faces intense pressure from Muslims to drop defense.

LAHOREPakistan: A Christian woman in Pakistan remains in jail on baseless charges of blasphemy after a judge rejected her bail application on Monday (June 3), sources said.

Stella Khawar, 28, was arrested on May 12 in Kharota Syedan, in the Kotli Loharan area of Sialkot District, Punjab Province, and was charged with hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims, said her husband, Khawar Shahzad.

“The lawyer says he will now file for bail in the Sessions Court,” Khawar Shahzad said. “My top priority right now is to keep my child safe from any harm. I don’t know what will happen due to the pressure from religious groups.”

With rights advocates suspecting an organized campaign against Christians following tensions in Jaranwala on August 16, the charges against Stella Khawar go back to alleged incidents in August and January.

“After the August 16, 2023, attacks on churches and homes of Christians in Jaranwala, there have been three or four incidents in our village in which blasphemous content written on currency notes and other material, including shopping bags,” Khawar Shahzad told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News.

“This caused much tension in our locality, but no one knew who was behind these actions.”

There are about 300 to 350 Christian families settled in Kotli Loharan.

A member of a Pentecostal church, Khawar Shahzad, said that the latest incident occurred in the village on May 10, when someone found blasphemous content written on a piece of paper. Instead of registering a new First Information Report (FIR), police named Stella Khawar in the August and January FIRs previously registered against “unknown persons,” he said.

“We were at my in-laws’ house on May 12 when police came and took Stella into custody,” Khawar Shahzad said. “They claimed that they had ‘concrete’ evidence that she was responsible for the incidents of alleged blasphemy. The allegation dumbfounded us, but we could do nothing to stop the police from taking Stella with them.”

The couple has a 4-year-old son. Khawar Shahzad said he has been unable to meet with his wife since her arrest.

“My wife is a devout Christian, and like other members of the community, she too was distraught after the attacks in Jaranwala,” he said. “However, she never said or did anything in front of me or other family members which showed that she could be involved in any such activity.”

The complainant, in the cases against his wife and other Muslims, is applying intense pressure on him to refrain from pursuing a defense for his wife, he said.

“The situation is such that, to date, I haven’t even been able to meet Stella and ask her about the allegation’s veracity,” he said. “A Christian aid organization engaged a lawyer to file a bail petition last week, but the magistrate rejected it on June 3, Monday.”

Kotli Loharan police arrested Stella Khawar under blasphemy charges in one case on August 27 and another on January 7.

According to Khawar Shahzad, a local Muslim prayer leader named Syed Jawad Ali filed both FIRs, alleging that unidentified individuals had thrown blasphemous material at various locations in the village to ignite religious conflict between the Muslim and Christian communities.

The charges include Section 295-A of the Blasphemy Statutes, which carries a sentence of ten years in prison for intentionally outraging religious sentiments. Additionally, Section 505 deals with deliberately causing fear in the public and harming public tranquility. It is punishable by imprisonment of up to seven years.

Christians Targeted

Rights activists said recent incidents in Kotli Loharan were a cause for serious concern and indicated a more extensive campaign against area Christians.

“At least 300-350 Christian families have settled in Kotli Loharan, and there have been many attempts to stir religious tension in that area since the Jaranwala incident on August 16,” rights activist Shahzad Imran told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News.

“There seems to have been a concerted campaign against Christians, the majority of whom are poor working-class people.”

Imran recalled that earlier this year, a Muslim gang in Kotli Loharan tortured two Christian brothers into reciting the Islamic conversion creed.

Azam Masih, 28, and his brother, Nadeem Masih, were abducted, beaten with iron rods, and pressured to convert to Islam on January 22.

In a video statement, Naseem Shah and Sunny Shah, the individuals under suspicion, spoke about the two brothers. According to the video, the Muslim gang forced them to claim they converted to Islam voluntarily.

The brothers and their impoverished Christian family chose to keep silent about the ordeal, as the suspects had warned them against contacting police. With the support of Christian activists, however, the brothers registered an FIR against the Muslims, resulting in their arrest.

Imran said the situation in the area was tense after the arrest of Stella Khawar, and he and others were in contact with Muslim leaders to defuse the situation.

“I feel there’s a more sinister plot behind these cases against Christians,” he said. “I appeal to the government to conduct a high-level inquiry into the allegations against Stella. She might have been a target of those who wanted to sabotage the peace and terrorize the Christians there.

Rights activist Napolean Qayyum said a recent incident in Sargodha, in which a Muslim mob lynched an elderly Christian on false blasphemy charges and burned his shoe factory, showed how the controversial laws were misused to settle personal rivalries.

Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2024 World Watch List of the most challenging places to be a Christian, as it was the previous year.

By Christianity News Daily

Christianity News Daily publishes the latest breaking Christian world news, posts, & stories about Christianity today, headlines on the persecuted Church, and the gospel news of Jesus Christ! Christianity News Daily spearheads the enhancement of the great commission by spreading the true gospel of Jesus Christ to every corner of the earth.