The minority human rights activists have expressed grave concern over the filing of a blasphemy case under Section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) against a 46-year-old Christian illiterate widow named Mussarat Bibi and a Muslim gardener named Muhammad Sarmad in Pakpattan, Pakistan.
That incident occurred on April 15, 2023, but the FIR was registered four days later, on April 19, at the Saddar Police Station Arifwala Pakpattan.
As per details, both workers were told to clean the storeroom filled with paper and other scrap items, during which they gathered the wasted paper and other scraps in the corner of the school and set them on fire. Some students later noticed that the burned items also contained holy pages of the Quran, and from there, the ordeal of the poor workers started.
Bibi has three daughters, two of whom are married, while the youngest is 14 and lives with her mother. Bibi’s husband, Barkat Masih, had worked as a teacher at the same school, and after his death five years ago, the institution hired her as an office worker in accordance with government service rules. She couldn’t be appointed as a teacher because she is illiterate.
Voice for Justice Chairperson Joseph Jansen raised grave concern over accusing an illiterate woman of intentionally burning pages of the holy Quran, even though she can’t even read or write and is working as a cleaner in the Government Girls Higher Secondary School in 66-EB village, Arifwala tehsil of Pakpattan District, Pakistan.
He said that Mussarat Bibi was lucky enough that police reached the site on time and dispersed the charged mob that had gathered outside the school with the intention of lynching.
The complainant, a local Muslim named Kashif Nadeem, tried his best to harm the Christian widow, but she remained protected by the grace of God Almighty.
He added that blasphemy laws are being used as an excuse to violate people’s rights on a vast scale. Despite their vulnerability, crimes committed against women and girls go unpunished, deterring them from seeking employment and achieving equality with men. Women were afraid to go out and work as a result of the abuse of blasphemy laws against religious minority women. Knowing that Mussarat is illiterate, innocent, and simply performing her role as she was alleged to have done is clear evidence that blasphemy laws have been misused, he added.
He bemoaned the fact that witnesses and complainants who made up accusations against the accused went unpunished. He said that charges of perjury under Section 182 of the Pakistani Penal Code, which carry a sentence of 5-7 years, are not efficiently prosecuted, adding that if implemented, the clause could alter the attitude of those involved in the accusations as well as the general public towards their handling.
Human rights activist Ashiknaz Khokhar also expressed the continuous use of blasphemy laws against the marginalized Christian community of Pakistan. He said this law has ruined the lives of many innocents in the country, and still, no one is trying to amend it.
A women’s rights activist, Nadia Stephen, said that blasphemy laws in Pakistan are incompatible with global human rights norms. Since it has been demonstrated that its abuse can result in mob violence and individuals taking the law into their own hands to administer vigilante justice, she stressed that the authorities must establish a national action plan to stop its abuse.
While condemning the rise in cases of blasphemy, Nadia stressed that an elderly widow’s life is under constant threat in jail.
She urged the women’s rights organizations to raise this matter on appropriate platforms to provide relief to the poor victim.
It is pertinent to mention here that initially, police took Mussarat Bibi into custody from the school, but during preliminary interrogation, they learned about the gardener named Muhammad Sarmad, also illiterate, who allegedly burned the pages of the holy Quran. The police also nominated him in the First Information Report (FIR) and took him into custody.