Christian man dies from wounds received in May attack in Pakistan

Christian man dies from wounds received in May attack in Pakistan People gather at a church building vandalised by Muslims in Jaranwala, Pakistan. A crowd vandalised churches and torched homes in the town in the Faisalabad district after two Christians were accused of blasphemy. Photo: OSV News/Fayyaz Hussain, Reuters

A Christian man attacked in Pakistan on May 25 died in the hospital on Monday, causing a leading bishop to call for stronger protection of religious minorities in the Muslim nation. According to local observers, hundreds of Muslims took part in the mob violence in Sargodha, Pakistan, located in the Punjab province, in May. The incident began with an accusation that a Christian had defaced a Koran, the Muslim holy book, which led to an assault in which his shoemaking factory was burned to the ground.

Nazir Gill Masih, a Christian man from Sargodha in his 70s, was the man who died.

Bishop Samson Shukardin, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, said unless laws are passed making it an offence to fabricate allegations of blasphemy, Christians will never feel safe in their own country. Christians represent just under 2% of the country’s population of 236 million.

“It is very important that legislation is introduced whereby those found to have wrongly accused people of blasphemy are given sentences including jail terms,” the bishop told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are among the most controversial in the world, with critics charging they’re often used to harass and intimidate religious minorities. One oft-cited example is Asia Bibbi, an illiterate Catholic woman who spent almost a decade on death row after a charge of blasphemy in 2010 and who was eventually forced to seek refuge in Canada.

Bishop Shukardin said alleged government inaction has emboldened more people to weaponise the controversial laws against innocent minorities. Last August, a wave of violence against Christians in the Punjab’s Jaranwala district also led to no convictions against the attackers.

Hundreds of Muslims went on a rampage over allegations that a Christian man and his friend had desecrated a Koran. Christians who fled their homes to escape the attackers later returned to a scene of destruction affecting homes and places of work. “Nothing has happened to bring justice following the Jaranwala incident. This is a disaster. It is not good for the minorities,” the bishop said.