Facebook ‘like’ lands Pakistani Christian teen in jail
Accusers claim the 16-year-old is guilty of blasphemy
Pakistani police last week arrested a 16-year-old Christian from eastern Punjab province on blasphemy charges stemming from a Facebook “like.”
Akhtar Ali, a Muslim, complained to the Phoolnagar Police Station about an image in Nabeel Masih’s Facebook feed, World Watch Monitor reported. Ali said Masih “liked” an “inappropriate” photograph of the Kaaba in Mecca, one of the holiest sites in Islam.
“On 18 September, I was with my friends Bakht Khan and Saddam … We took our friend Waqar’s mobile phone and started seeing pictures of his various friends on Facebook. But when we opened Nabeel Masih’s profile, there was a picture posted in which the Kaaba is defamed and disrespected. Seeing that picture, our religious feelings were hurt,” the accusation stated, according to WWM.
The Kaaba or “Cube” is a black building shaped like a box that sits inside Mecca’s Grand Mosque. The building contains a meteorite Muslims say was placed there by Abraham and Ishmael as a sign of God’s covenant. Muslims who take a pilgrimage or hajj to Mecca walk around it counterclockwise seven times.
Masih’s cousin, Imran Masih, told WWM the “like” was a mistake and not meant to offend. He claimed his cousin could not read.
But Pakistan’s courts do not consider intent when hearing blasphemy cases, which include offending Muslims, desecrating a Quran, or insulting the prophet, said William Stark, a spokesman for International Christian Concern (ICC).
Many Christians from Masih’s neighborhood fled following his arrest, fearing mob violence against the community.
“Historically, blasphemy accusations have precipitated communal violence,” Stark said. The worst example was Joseph Colony in 2013 when a mob of about 300 people burned down an entire Christian community following a blasphemy accusation against one man.
In 2014, a Muslim mob barbarically seized, beat, and burned a Christian couple alive after someone accused them of desecrating a Quran. There was no evidence of the supposed crime.
Masih is in jail pending trial. Stark said it was possible “this could get investigated and the boy may be released.” Sometimes if an accusation is absurd or unfounded the police decide to drop charges. But even if that happens, Stark said Masih “probably won’t be able to return to where he lives.”
If Masih is found guilty, the penalty could be severe. Under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, those convicted of insulting Islam face fines or prison time, with even harsher sentences for desecrating a Quran or insulting the Prophet Muhammed—including execution. False accusations are common and used to settle personal scores or target religious minorities in the majority Muslim nation.
After co-workers accused her of blasphemy in 2009, a Pakistani court sentenced Christian Asia Bibi to death in 2010. She currently awaits an appeal hearing before Pakistan’s Supreme Court, which is scheduled for October, according to ICC.
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