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Evangelist Babu Shahbaz charged for allegedly committing blasphemy

Lahore: January 4, 2017. (PCP) Babu Shahbaz, a Christian form Kamahan village, Lahore has been arrested by police after allegedly committing blasphemy.

On December 30, 2016 Nishtar Colony Police Station, Lahore registered FIR No. 1906/16, offence under section 295-B, PPC (Pakistan Penal Code) against Christian Babu Shahbaz and some unknown persons, after a Muslim Haji Nadeem complained about this incident. Shahbaz is being detained in Model Town police station Lahore.

He is accused of committing blasphemy as his name was found written on Quranic pages being scattered in the street of a Muslim Peer Baba Gujjar. Shahbaz is illiterate and does not know how to write.

Haji Nadeem the complainant is a rival shopkeeper who was jealous and wanted the grocery shop owned by George Masih, Babu Shahbaz’s brother, to be shut down.

Babu Shahbaz, 41, is resident of Village Kamahan near Lahore, and is married with one daughter and two sons. He has been evangelising for the past 15 years, he does not have a church building but organises healing prayer meetings at his residence. Apart from Christians many Muslims also come to him for healing and blessings. On the other hand, Muslim Peer Baba Pola Gujjar lost his followers as they have started going to Shahbaz’s healing prayers.

Haji Nadeem, Peer Baba Gujjar and some other local Muslims were not very happy with the growing popularity of Shahbaz and have consequently implicated him in a false case of blasphemy. Haji Nadeem said in his statement that on December 30, 2016 early in the morning he along with his companions were going to the mosque for prayer and on the way they found 100 torn Quranic pages with Babu Shahbaz’s name written on them scattered in the street.

The police who took a prompt action and the early hours (6:30 a.m.) of Friday, December 30, 2017 arrested Shahbaz Masih, his wife Rani Bibi and their daughter Saher and detained them at Nishtar Police Station to avoid any further reaction from in the area. Later on police transferred Shahbaz at Police Station Model Town Lahore. Police further deputed a large number of policemen in the village to monitor the situation and for the protection of Christians and their properties.

On the same day the family approached CLAAS for legal assistance and to rescue Rani Bibi and Saher. Although the office was closed for Christmas holidays but Mr Joseph Francis, National Director CLAAS-PK went to Nishtar Police Station and had a meeting with SP (superintendent of police) Model Town and also met with Babu Shahbaz.

The SP assured Mr Francis the investigations would be fair and gave custody of Rani and Saher to him. Both mother and daughter are safe and being given shelter at CLAAS rehabilitation Centre. CLAAS also promised legal aid to the family.

Though some fear prevails, the situation is under control and the Muslims and Christians are working together to resolve the matter.

Nasir Saeed, Director of CLAAS-UK said the misuse of the Blasphemy law continues to rise against Christians and other religious minorities.

It is sad that the family has to suffer during the Christmas period and I wish the matter is resolved out of court as soon as possible, otherwise Shahbaz’s fate will be the same as the Aasia Bibi, Sawan Masih, Zaffar Bhatti and many others who have been languishing in jails for years.

“Although this year government of Pakistan has run the Christmas train and the president of Pakistan Mamnoon Hussain, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Christian Minister Kamran Michael and some other religious and political leaders cut a Christmas cake in the president’s house in Islamabad, there is much needed to amend the blasphemy law which is considered a root cause of Christians’ persecution.

“In the past there has been some news about the introduction of some safeguards to stop the ongoing misuse of the blasphemy law but unfortunately until now no changes have be made to the law and I am afraid that Babu Shahbaz could be the last victim of blasphemy for 2016, but not the last victim ever. If the government does not change this law sadly we can expect several reports of false cases of blasphemy against religious minorities stemming from property issues, professional and business jealously and family vendettas in 2017.

“Blasphemy laws clearly violate international human rights treaties ratified by the Pakistani government, therefore it is the duty of the international community to build pressure on the Pakistani government to fulfil their international obligations and bring their law in line with these treaties. “