Sajjad Masih is a young Pakistani man 29 years old. He fell in love and became engaged to a young woman named Roma. He spent many hours communicating with her on his cell phone. But another man was also in love with Roma. He lived in the United Kingdom and made promises to Roma’s parents about getting visas for them if he could marry her. The deal was done. On May 17, 2011, he and Roma were married.
What does this have to do with the blasphemy law? Be patient; it is coming. Following the wedding, Sajjad and Roma kept using their cell phones to talk to each other. One day Roma’s husband saw them talking, and he was very unhappy. He wanted to teach Sajjad a lesson. He determined to make sure Sajjad was out of the way—so he accused him of sending blasphemous messages from his cell phone.
The police raided Sajjad’s home, but did not find anything. In spite of that, on December 28, 2011, they arrested him for blasphemy (295C Penal Code). They did not find any blasphemous messages in their investigation, so they used violence to force Sajjad to confess that he was guilty, but he maintained his innocence. On July 13, 2013, Sajjad Masih was sentenced to life in prison for blasphemy by the court of Toba Tek Singh District in Punjab.
Sajjad Masih is a Christian, and like Asia Bibi, the young Pakistani woman attacked for her faith, he lives in the Punjab. He is another innocent victim of the blasphemy law—a law often used to eliminate a rival or competitor. Members of religious minorities in Pakistan live with the constant threat of being accused of blasphemy. They know that if they are accused, they can’t count on a serious investigation. The religious fanatics also know this and take advantage of it.
Sajjad’s lawyer will appeal, but will it be enough? Religious fanatics will have a new opportunity to terrorize religious minorities, dissidents, or freethinkers. The blasphemy law is one of the preferred tools in their campaign against their enemies—including Muslims who are also victims of this law.
This blasphemy law shows religious freedom and human rights defenders the downside of any law that pretends to protect religion but works in total contradiction to the message of freedom and human dignity for people of all religious beliefs.
Author: John Graz
John Graz is secretary-general of the International Religious Liberty Association.