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800 Christian families flee after blasphemy accusation

21 February 2018

Eight hundred Christian families have fled their neighbourhood in Lahore, Pakistan, after a 20-year-old Christian, Patras Masih was accused of blasphemy for posting a photo on Facebook. The families feared a repeat of previous instances when Christian neighbourhoods have been set on fire following blasphemy accusations.

According to his uncle, Patras Masih posted an offensive photo to a Facebook group named PaglonKiBasti (the Town of Lunatics). The group consists of both Christian and Muslim members.

Muhammad Awais, who reported the blasphemy, alerted the group moderator to the post, who in turn phoned Patras Masih and asked him to remove the picture. But Patras Masih refused, angering the local residents.

A mob formed demanding Patras Masih be publicly hanged for posting content which disrespected the prophet Muhammad. They set tyres alight and blocked part of the Grand Trunk Road, a main route in Lahore that connects the city with other major parts of the country.

Police arrived at the scene, with Muslim clerics, in order to try and calm tensions. The police managed to get the road cleared for traffic in the evening, but the mob continued to demand Patras Masih’s arrest and public hanging.

“In the evening, when the angry mob was getting out of control, we went to the superintendent of police’s office and handed Patras to them,” said Arif Masih, his uncle. “Since then we don’t know what is taking place with him.”

Patras Masih had a nominal education and has been working as a cleaner in a bank. According to Punjab Assembly parliamentarian, Mary Gill, many Christians are illiterate and don’t understand the sensitivity around the prophet Muhammad and are therefore careless on social media. Mary Gill said that there had been many of these instances over the years.

A joint press conference, which was held yesterday evening between Christian and Islamic leaders at Shahdara Police Station, called for dispersed Christians to return to the neighbourhood.

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