Christian man falsely accused of blasphemy in Pakistan amid property dispute with Muslim convert

ARIF ALI/AFP via Getty Images
ARIF ALI/AFP via Getty Images

LAHORE, Pakistan — A 72-year-old Christian man in Pakistan was arrested and charged with blasphemy on Saturday based on a false accusation filed in retaliation over a property dispute, sources said.

Younis Bhatti was charged with blasphemy in Jaranwala, Pakistan, on February 10, 2024.
Younis Bhatti was charged with blasphemy in Jaranwala, Pakistan, on February 10, 2024. | Christian Daily International-Morning Star News

Younis Bhatti, known as Bhagat, was charged with desecrating the Quran under Section 295-B of Pakistan’s blasphemy statutes, which carries a mandatory life sentence, in village 211-RB, Jaranwala Tehsil, Faisalabad District, Punjab Province, said Asher Sarfaraz, chief executive of Christians True Spirit (CTS).

The complainant, Sosan Fatima, has been attending the Brethren house church founded by the Bhatti family but told Khurrianwala Police that she and her husband converted to Islam more than a year ago, Sarfaraz said.

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“Fatima has alleged that Bhatti forced his way into her house when she was reading the Quran, assaulted her and tore the Islamic scripture,” Sarfaraz told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News.

In her complaint, Fatima alleged that Bhatti opposed the family’s conversion to Islam, he said.

“But our investigation has revealed that Fatima implicated Bhatti in a false blasphemy case to prevent him from reclaiming his property,” Sarfaraz said.

The government had allotted Bhatti and his five brothers 6 acres of land, which they subleased to poor Christians for affordable housing.

“Bhatti has a good reputation in the area and is known to extend help to Christians. He allowed Fatima and her crippled husband to live in a house on the allotted land free of cost about two years ago,” Sarfaraz said. “The dispute began some months ago, after Bhatti told Fatima that he wanted to accommodate another Christian family on the property. He told her that he would construct a wall to equally divide the 1,361 square-foot property between the two families, but she refused to let him proceed.”

Area residents told Sarfaraz that on Saturday, Bhatti had not yet entered Fatima’s house when she began screaming and hurling allegations of blasphemy against him, he said.

“Residents have also confirmed that Fatima was a regular churchgoer, but she had claimed becoming a Muslim just to entrap Bhatti in the false case,” Sarfaraz said.

At least 15 Christian families were living in the area, but the blasphemy charge has driven them to Faisalabad out of fear of attacks by Muslims in the wake of the Aug. 16 riots in the area, provoked by a false blasphemy accusation.

“We are holding talks with senior police officials to ensure the safe return of these families to their homes,” Sarfaraz said. “The families are naturally scared because of the Jaranwala riots, but we are trying to allay their concerns for security.”

Jaranwala Pastor Sharoon Masih said Bhatti was a widower with three sons and two daughters.

“Bhatti and his family are well known in the area for facilitating Christians. It’s alarming that our people have also begun misusing the blasphemy laws against each other over personal disputes,” Pastor Masih told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News.

In the Aug. 16 attacks, area Muslims ransacked and burned multiple churches and homes over allegations that two Christian brothers had desecrated the Quran and written blasphemous content. Police investigations have revealed that a Christian named Pervaiz Masih entrapped the two brothers in the case because he suspected that the younger one was having an affair with his wife.

The Rev. Khalid Mukhtar, a Catholic priest who is also one of the complainants against the assailants in Jaranwala, said he had been told that Bhatti had regarded Fatima as a genuine sister in Christ as a member of his church, and that he was unhappy with her for renouncing her faith.

“I haven’t been able to confirm this information yet from the Bhatti family as they have left their homes, but prima facie it seems that the woman has levelled a false allegation against the septuagenarian,” Mukhtar said.

He urged the government to take notice of the increasing trend of false blasphemy accusations.

“It’s important to investigate such incidents thoroughly before registering the cases to deter false accusations,” Mukhtar said. “Immediate arrest of those accused of blasphemy only encourages more false accusations, because it takes years for the accused to prove their innocence.”

Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2024 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, as it was the previous year.

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