A 42-year-old Christian man in Pakistan has been accused of blasphemy.
James Masih has been a sanitary worker at the Tehsil Headquarter (THQ) Hospital Chaubara, in Layyah, Punjab, for 12 years.
In addition to cleaning duties, his other responsibilities include tending to outpatients and assisting staff in the emergency ward.
On Wednesday 5th October, he was accused of blasphemy by a female Muslim patient.
According to Masih, the patient became difficult when he directed her to room number 11 for her check-up. She only went when a staff nurse came in and told her to go to this room.
After the patient completed her check-up, she accused Masih of blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad, which he denies.
A man filmed Masih’s encounter with the patient and posted the video to social media. It went viral and was picked up by news broadcaster Ehsas TV9.
“I knew the sensitivity of this news, it was a death warrant against me,” said Masih.
Masih and his family have been forced to leave their home and go into hiding out of fear for their life.
“I am very concerned about my safety and that of my family and don’t know how we can live here but one thing is sure, I have no future and if I am traced they are going to kill me and I don’t know what will happen with my family,” he said.
“This is a very sensitive matter, and in such cases, people become very emotional. They can kill me on the spot as normally happens in such cases. There are a number of examples where innocent people have been killed on one person’s accusations.”
Blasphemy is a serious crime in Pakistan and punishable by death.
Masih’s wife Shumaila said that the accusation is false and being used by the woman to settle a personal grudge.
The accuser is the widow of a rickshaw driver who used to take Masih’s children to school. Earlier this summer, they could only pay 3,600 rupees instead of the full 4,000 and promised to pay the remaining 400 rupees later. The rickshaw driver accepted this but later died before the outstanding amount was paid.
Shumaila says his widow then came to the house demanding 4,000 rupees. When Shumaila tried to explain that they only owed 400 rupees she became angry and started calling her a churra - a derogatory term for Christians.
Even though a senior staffer at the hospital reported the incident to the police who cleared Masih of wrongdoing, Shumaila says this has not satisfied her husband’s accuser and that she is determined to teach him a lesson.
“This time she has involved the media and is accusing my husband of committing blasphemy only to settle personal scores and she is accusing my husband of a crime he has never committed,” she said.
“Her false accusations have endangered our whole family’s lives and if it is not resolved we have no future. My children have already stopped going to school, we have no permanent place to live but are moving from one place to another.
“I am illiterate and don’t know how this matter will be resolved and how my husband can prove himself innocent.”
Napoleon Qayyum, Executive Director of Pak Centre for Law and Justice has said that is very unfortunate ads Christians continue to be the main target. People continue to use this law to settle their personal grudges it is necessary to put an end to the abuse of the blasphemy law.