Jailed for Blasphemy: The Plight of a Mentally Ill Catholic Woman in Pakistan

A 60-year-old Catholic woman with a history of mental illness was jailed on blasphemy charges in Lahore, Pakistan, this week.

Jameela Khatoon was arrested from her home in Lahore’s Cantonment area on Tuesday, June 4, following a complaint by Asif Ali, a local Muslim shopkeeper.

Ali filed a First Information Report (FIR) under Section 295-C of Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which mandates the death penalty for insulting Muhammad.

Local shopkeepers are well aware of Khatoon’s mental health issues. They often allow her to take items without immediate payment, knowing her family will settle the bill later.

Sunny Gill, Khatoon’s son, expressed surprise that Ali, who knew about her condition, complained to her.

The incident occurred when Khatoon allegedly made derogatory remarks about Muhammad upon seeing an Islamic prayer displayed in Ali’s shop.

Gill recounted that Ali claimed in the FIR that attempts to stop Khatoon from blaspheming were futile, and she continued to insult Muhammad as she walked home.

Gill, the oldest of Khatoon’s four children, was absent during her arrest. He and his wife were out shopping when police arrived.

The family was initially misled to believe Khatoon was taken on theft charges, only to discover the actual blasphemy accusation later.

Khatoon’s mental health has been deteriorating over the past four years, and despite several treatments at the Punjab Institute of Mental Health, there has been slight improvement.

Gill, who works as a cleaner, said the family has tried to protect Khatoon from harming herself but never anticipated a blasphemy charge.

He hopes the legal system will consider her mental illness and dismiss the charges on compassionate grounds.

Attorney Liaquat John, defending Khatoon, plans to request a medical evaluation to confirm her mental state, which could prevent the trial from proceeding.

Pakistani law provides protections for individuals with mental illness, stating that those of unsound minds cannot be held criminally responsible.

John pointed out that the FIR did not specify the derogatory remarks, which could strengthen their case for bail.

The attorney awaits the police investigation report before applying for bail, aiming to secure Khatoon’s release.

The incident has caused fear among the 40-45 Christian families in the Bael Ahata neighborhood, with many fleeing to avoid potential mob violence.

John emphasized the need for police protection in the area, especially during Friday prayers, to prevent any unrest.

Gill mentioned that although there have been no direct threats, many Christians have sought safer locations.

Pakistan remains a challenging place for Christians, ranking seventh on Open Doors’ 2024 World Watch List of difficult places to be a Christian.

The case of Jameela Khatoon underscores the severe implications of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and the vulnerability of individuals with mental illness within this context.

Leave a Comment