ISLAMABAD — Pakistani police say they are searching for a Christian man facing blasphemy charges after a Muslim friend accused him of insulting Islam with a poem, with derogatory references to Muhammad and other holy figures.
Local police official Mohammad Asim said Tuesday that the accused man, named Nadeem James, is on the run and is being sought by police.
James is alleged to have sent his friend the controversial poem on WhatsApp. The incident occurred in the town of Sara-e-Alamghir in Punjab province.
However, Europa Press reported July 12 that James’s brother has told police that he’s illiterate and doesn’t even know what WhatsApp is, charging that the Muslim friend had sent the poem himself.
Reportedly, James’ relatives have been taken into “protective custody” and there is increased security in Christian neighborhoods in the Pakistani town of Sara-i-Almgeer, roughly 100 miles north of Lahore, because of tensions arising from the case.
Asim said police are also guarding a local church to prevent any violence.
Under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, anyone accused of insulting Islam can be sentenced to death. However, the laws are often misused to settle personal scores and target minorities.
In 2015, Muslims beat to death a Christian couple and burned their bodies in a brick kiln for allegedly desecrating the Quran.
Illustrating the depth of feeling these cases can arouse, two prominent Pakistani politicians, one a Catholic and the other a Muslim, were assassinated in 2011 for opposing the blasphemy laws. The Catholic victim, Shahbaz Bhatti, is today a candidate for sainthood.
Though representing less than two percent of an overwhelmingly Muslim population, there are nevertheless an estimated 2.5 million Christians in Pakistan, evenly divided between Catholics and Protestants.