A member of an Islamic extremist group in Pakistan has accused a Christian minor of blasphemy after the boy had an argument with a Muslim, sources said.
Hina Shafaqat, mother of 17-year-old Shahzad Masih, told Morning Star News that her son had been wrongly implicated in the case by a Muslim colleague with whom he had a quarrel 10 days ago, and the family has not been able to locate him since his arrest.
Working as a sweeper at Shamim Riaz Hospital in Dinga town, Gujrat District, Punjab Province for the past nine months, Masih had an altercation with hospital pharmacy employee Ishtiaq Ahmed Jalali, she said. A senior medical officer at the hospital intervened and calmed the quarrel, but "Jalali nurtured a grudge against my son and has now plotted this case against him to settle the score," she said.
"I've raised Shahzad as a devout Roman Catholic - I've never taught my children to hate people belonging to other faiths, which is why I am sure that my son is being wrongly accused of blasphemy," she said. "The police arrested my son on Friday [July 14], and since then we have been trying to locate his whereabouts."
Neither the Dinga police nor the Kharian police said they have him in their custody, she said.
"We have searched so many police stations but have failed to trace him," she said, adding that police were torturing the family mentally by not disclosing her son's location or revealing his well-being.
Masih, the oldest of five children, is the family breadwinner along with his father, a daily wage mason. Shahzad Masih went to school until grade four, after which his family could not afford to further education.
"We, and the family of my brother-in-law Rafaqat, had to relocate to a relative's house on Friday[July 14] to avoid any backlash from the local Muslims, who are being instigated by an Islamist outfit," she said.
More than 30 other Christian families also live in Mohalla Railway Station of Dinga town.
Dinga Police Station House Officer (SHO) Inspector Shahbaz Ahmad dodged questions about facts of the case, telling Morning Star News only, "The accused has committed blasphemy."
The police official did note that a First Information Report (FIR No. 273/17) was registered against Masih under Section 295-C, which calls for death or life imprisonment to those found guilty of blaspheming against Muhammad, the prophet of Islam.
According to the FIR, complainant Nadeem Ahmed - president of the Dinga chapter of Islamist outfit Tehreek Tahafuz-e-Islam Pakistan - alleged that he was sitting in his electronic appliances shop when Ishtiaq Ahmed Jalali came and informed him that Masih had uttered derogatory remarks against Muhammad. Jalali is also a member of Tehreek Tahafuz-e-Islam Pakistan.
"Upon hearing this, we sent a boy to Shahzad Masih's home and asked him to come to the Popular Mobile Shop for clearing the issue," Ahmed alleged in the FIR. "When Masih came there, we asked him about the accusation, to which he again started abusing and cursing the Holy Prophet. Some people who had gathered at the shop by then also witnessed the blasphemy done by Masih."
Ahmed alleged that the Christian boy "managed to escape from the shop."
Inspector Ahmad declined to comment on why he thought Masih had committed blasphemy or if he had admitted to it.
"You know very well I cannot repeat the blasphemous words," he said, avoiding questions as to what could have motivated the Christian to do such a thing. He also did not offer any plausible explanation as to how Masih was able to flee from the scene in the presence of a large number of upset Muslims.
"Talk to the SP, because we just registered the case and forwarded it to him for further action," he said before putting down the phone.
Repeated attempts to reach Superintendent of Police (SP) Maaz Zafar failed as his telephone operator said that the senior official was busy and would return the call later. At this writing, however, Zafar had not contacted Morning Star News.
Attorneys Riaz Anjum and Kashif Naimat from the Pakistan Center for Law and Justice (PCLJ) told Morning Star News from Dinga that they had offered legal and financial assistance to Shahzad Masih's family as he was one of the main providers of income for the family, and his arrest had badly degraded their finances.
"The case is clearly fabricated, because the FIR does not state any motive for Shahzad Masih's alleged blasphemy," Anjum said. "It's very unfortunate that Pakistani police book people in blasphemy cases before even trying to ascertain the facts. Now the boy will be made to suffer in prison like so many other innocent people who have fallen victim to the harsh blasphemy laws."
He said that their investigation had corroborated the account of the Christian family.
"It is true that Masih had a fight with a pharmacy worker over a week ago, and the matter was resolved by a doctor," Anjum said. "Local sources told us that Jalali bore a grudge against Masih, and he had connived with the complainant, Nadeem Ahmad, to settle his personal score with the Christian boy."