A 16-year-old Christian boy has gone into hiding along with his family after he was accused of sending text messages denigrating the Prophet Muhammad to friends and neighbors in the city of Karachi. Protesters broke into their house and burned all the furniture and appliances.
Ryan Stanten, who has been charged under the blasphemy law, and his family, including his physically challenged father, have been in hiding since Tuesday night, when the cleric of the local mosque, Maulvi Ghulam Qadir, spoke to them about the text messages, The Express Tribune reported Saturday.
The boy's mother, Rubina Bryan, was suspended by the Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC), where she worked, on Wednesday, the day a complaint was lodged at the local police station. The same day, protesters broke into their house in the SSGC staff colony, threw the furniture and electric appliances on the road outside the colony, and set fire to them.
None of the protesters have been booked for trespassing and arson. A police official was quoted as saying, "How can we arrest a mob for they are the ones who are among the complainants."
The complaint was made by SSGC employee Khurshid Alam, who claimed to be one of the recipients of the messages, and the local cleric, Qadir.
A Christian activist, who was not named, was quoted as saying that the boy's friends had taken away his cell phone and sent the messages. "Ryan had no idea who the messages were sent to and what kind of messages they were." Investigation Officer Maula Buksh said police have requested authorities to prevent Ryan and his family from leaving the country.
According to Pakistan Today, there was a quarrel between SSGC administration and the mother of the accused, and "some officials in the administration wanted the family to leave the colony."
The case comes even as a mentally challenged minor Christian girl, Rimsha Masih, is being tried in a court under the blasphemy laws. Masih, who was arrested from the Mehria Jaffar area on the outskirts of Islamabad in mid-August, was released on bail after witnesses told the court they saw a cleric adding pages carrying Quranic verses to ashes that the complainant handed to him as evidence against the girl. The witnesses later turned hostile.
Masih was accused of burning a Noorani Qaida, a booklet used to learn the basics of the Holy Quran. It was also alleged that she had thrown the booklet in the garbage after putting it in a plastic bag. After the girl's arrest, more than 600 people had to flee the Christian neighborhood out of fear.
The blasphemy law, embedded in Sections 295 and 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code, is frequently misused to target religious minorities – Christians, Shi'as, Ahmadiyyas and Hindus – and allows Islamists to justify killings. Extremist Islamists believe that killing a "blasphemous" person earns a heavenly reward.
Last year, Punjab's Governor Salman Taseer was assassinated for his advocacy for Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi who had been convicted by a trial court for blasphemy. Two months later, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian and Minister for Minority Affairs, was murdered for his criticism of the blasphemy law.
Just an accusation is enough to have a person arrested for blasphemy. There is no provision in the law to punish a false accuser or a false witness of blasphemy. Some local Muslims seek revenge by making an allegation against his or her adversary who is a non-Muslim. Many who are accused of blasphemy are killed by mobs extra-judicially.