Syed Karim * has been in hiding for weeks. He fears that if he is seen on the street in Karachi, the Pakistani city he calls home, he will be a walking dead man.
His ordeal began in early September with a Facebook post condemning the killers of Shia Muslims who were martyred centuries ago. Although Kareem meant a position of religious devotion, he attracted the attention of an extremist Sunni Muslim group, who called him a traitor to Muslims.
Two days later, the 21-year-old student found himself the subject of a police report accusing him of violating Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws. He is one of more than 50 Shia Muslims in Sunni-majority Pakistan, who have been charged with blasphemy and counter-terrorism in the past month. The youngest was three years old.
“I’m afraid they’ll kill me,” Karim said. “I am being targeted because I belong to the Shia religious minority. I am afraid of myself and my family. Police were on their way to interrogate him, and Kareem and his family chose to disappear last month, fearing a violent outcome for those accused of blasphemy by extremist Sunni groups in Pakistan.
Over the past month, Pakistan has seen a dramatic increase in attacks and arrests of the Shia population, between 15% and 20% in the Sunni-majority country, the largest Shiite community outside Iran.
Also, 50 blasphemers have been charged with blasphemy since September 5, and many Shiite families and celebrities have gone into hiding. Last week, in Punjab, police beat up 22 Shia Muslims, including seven women, who were attending a ceremony marking a Shia martyr.
Blasphemy is a capital crime in Pakistan and even unsubstantiated allegations can lead to mobs and lynchings against angry people.
Bakhtawar Jafari, a Shia rights activist in Punjab, said he had recently filed a police report for anti-Shia hate speech but it was ignored. “On the contrary, on the other hand, the police are entertaining in baseless and fake cases,” he said.
The situation worsened last week when an influential Sunni religious scholar, Maulana Dr. Adil Khan, was killed in an attack. Extremist Sunni groups have publicly accused Shia Muslims of carrying out the attack
The anti-Shia Muslim campaign first began to gather momentum on social media in September, calling for Shia Muslims to be declared religious. The hashtag “infidels, infidels, Shiites are infidels” started trending.
Then, in mid-September, a march of more than 30,000 people, organized by extremist Sunni Muslim groups, gathered in Karachi for two days to call Shia Muslims “infidels” and “blasphemers.” And demanded that they be beheaded. It was the largest anti-Shia march in decades in Pakistan, and was replicated in other cities, including the capital Islamabad.
Shia Muslims also fear that their religious freedom is being legalized. In july طحوف bun بن ید الاسلام [protection of foundation of Islam bill] Encouraging a strong response from the Shia community, the Punjab Assembly approved it, which only supported the Sunni interpretation of Islam.
Hamza Baloch, a founding member of the lawyers group Secular Shia Voices, said, “It seems that oppression and barbarism are waiting for the Shia minority.” First they used hashtags, then they killed us and rallied against us. Now they are legislating to eliminate the Shia minority.
Leading the anti-Shia campaign in Pakistan are two hardline Sunni Muslim groups, Ahl-e-Sunnat-e-Wal-Jamaat (ASWJ) and Tehreek-e-Lubaik Pakistan (TLP). The ASWJ was previously banned in Pakistan under the Anti-Terrorism Act and is considered a global terrorist organization before it is lifted in 2018.
Sectarian persecution of Shia Muslims has long plagued Pakistan, with Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia and Shiite-majority Iran, as well as the United States, waging a “war on terror” on Pakistani soil. Proxy wars are on the rise. As a senior security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, alleged: “We cannot ignore the role of regional and international powers in sectarianism in Pakistan; Iran supports the Shiite militia.”
However, the resurgence of this sectarian sectarianism began in 2017 when the Pakistani government began giving concessions to extremist Sunni Muslim groups. In 2017, the TLP forced a law minister to resign over a relaxation of blasphemy laws. Then, in the 2018 elections, the ASWJ and the TLP were allowed to run in the elections, winning seats in Parliament.
In the same election, the ASWJ also gained influential support behind 70 candidates from Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, which won and formed the government.
Despite these documented positions of extremist positions, in the last two years the TLP and ASWJ have been forced to make public speeches against the Shia community, hold rallies, mobilize against the Shia community, and ensure their power and influence. Is allowed. Pakistan has firmly moved towards another power.
The Khan government, meanwhile, has been accused of turning a blind eye to growing sectarianism by hardline Sunni groups, which allegedly enjoy the patronage of state and military officials, and At a time when the government is weak and uses its support for political gain. The economy is collapsing.
Dr Noman Naqvi, an associate professor at Habib University in Karachi, said: She sees it as the only option to stay away from politics and the economic crisis that is looming over Pakistan.
Naqvi added, “The large presence of these constitutional phobic groups is a clear and current threat to civic and constitutional rule in Pakistan.” “It threatens to plunge the country into anarchy.”
Even Fawad Chaudhry, who is currently serving as science and technology minister in Khan’s government, acknowledged that sectarianism was an issue “getting out of hand”.
“Unfortunately, because of Pakistan’s history, especially in terms of security, it remains a huge issue,” Chaudhry said.
* Name has been changed to protect identity
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