A Christian nurse in Pakistan and her family have gone into hiding after being accused of committing blasphemy by a Muslim co-worker. Many across the country are upset after videos surfaced online of her being attacked by coworkers.
Tabitha Nazir Gill, a 30-year-old Christian nurse, was accused of blasphemy Thursday at Sobhraj Maternity Hospital in Karachi city in Sindh province, where she worked for nine years, the United States-based persecution advocacy organization International Christian Concern reports.
A Muslim co-worker, who was not identified, allegedly made the accusation after a personal dispute over receiving cash tips from hospital patients.
According to the ICC report, the hospital’s head nurse instructed all medical staff not to receive cash tips from patients. Gill reportedly remained the co-worker who she saw collect money from a patient about the instruction.
The co-worker then falsely accused Gill of committing blasphemy.
According to sources that spoke with the nonprofit, hospital staff beat Gill after tying her up with ropes and locking her in a room before police arrived. She was taken into police custody.
However, police released Gill as they did not find any evidence against her. But ultimately, police were pressured to file charges.
Gill and her family have fled to an unknown location in fear of vigilante violence, the persecution watchdog stated.
Police provided protection to Gill and tried to resolve the issue, a source told ICC.
“However, a mob of hundreds of Muslims gathered at the local police station to force the police to register an FIR [formal complaint] against Gill,” the source told ICC. “This FIR was lodged today [Friday].”
In Pakistan, blasphemy — insulting Islam or its prophet Muhammad — is a crime that is punishable by prison time or even the death penalty. The blasphemy law, embedded in sections 295 and 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code, is frequently misused for personal revenge.
It carries no provision to punish a false accuser or a false witness of blasphemy. But Pakistan imprisons more people on blasphemy charges than any other country in the world.
Islamist extremists also use the law to target religious minorities— Christians, Shi’as, Ahmadiyyas, and Hindus.
“In Pakistan, blasphemy allegations forever ruin the lives of the accused, even if proved to be false,” ICC Regional Manager, William Stark, said in a statement.
“We call on Pakistani authorities to thoroughly and fairly investigate this false allegation and bring the false accuser to justice. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws must no longer be allowed to settle personal scores or incite religious hatred. Too often, these laws have been a tool in the hands of extremists seeking to stir up religiously motivated violence against minorities.”
According to the Union of Catholic Asia News, police registered Gill’s blasphemy case under section 295-C of the Pakistan legal code, the section punishable by the death penalty. The outlet notes that a midwifery student accused the nurse of saying that Prophet Ishmael was born of adultery and insulted Muhammad.
A video that surfaced online of Gill being beaten at the hospital drew the ire of a Muslim cleric Maulana Tahir.
“It is with great grief I request Prime Minister Imran Khan and state leaders to take notice. The police investigation proved that she didn’t commit blasphemy,” he stated in a video message on Facebook. “The faces of the attackers are clear in the video. They should be given strictest punishment as well so that a violent or a religious fanatic cannot misuse the 295 [blasphemy] law to harm minorities and settle a personal score in the name of religion.”
Tahir stated that the blasphemy law is causing minority girls to face “mountains of tyranny.”
“Try to amend this law,” he was quoted as saying. “Nobody should suffer. Prophet Muhammad urged to protect creation for the will of Allah. Minorities deserve equal rights to live and worship peacefully.”
Between 1987 and 2017, 1,534 people in Pakistan were accused of blasphemy, according to ICC, which also says that at least 238 of those accusations were made against Christians.
Christians only make up 1.6% of Pakistan’s total population. Pakistan is listed by the U.S. State Department as a “country of particular concern” for religious freedom and is ranked as the fifth-worst country when it comes to the persecution of Christians.
The world’s attention was drawn to Pakistan’s blasphemy law after Christian mother of five Asia Bibi was sentenced to death and served over 10 years in prison before Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted her in 2018. Her acquittal drew the ire of radical extremist groups as many protested in the streets and threatened to kill the Supreme Court judges responsible.
The threat of communal violence following a blasphemy allegation is also real. In 2014, Christian couple Shehzad and Shamah Masih were burned to death in a brick kiln over false accusations they ripped pages from the Quran.
The brother of a U.S. citizen is also facing the possibility of being sentenced to death in Pakistan on trumped-up blasphemy charges. The brother, Shakeel Anjum, urges the Biden administration to pressure that country to release his brother, Nadeem Samson.
By March-end, 47-year-old Samson will go before Pakistan’s Lahore High Court to plead against blasphemy charges, Anjum told The Christian Post earlier this month.
On Nov. 24, 2017, a man named Abdul Haq allegedly told police that Samson had opened a fake Facebook account where he allegedly posted blasphemous material. He asked for an immediate police raid on Samson’s home to catch him in the act.
Police captured Samson and a police report claimed that he had admitted to the crime, which, his brother said, was done under torture.
Police are accused of beating Samson for three days until he admitted to the crime, the brother recalled.
“We are not free to pray [in Pakistan],” Anjum argued. “We do not say anything and we are charged for blasphemy. This is a question of genocide of Christians in Pakistan. They just destroyed three years in trial. They are destroying the lives of blasphemy victims.”