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Pakistani Christians Fear for their Lives as Muslim Extremists Demand Death for ‘Blasphemers’

July 19th 2010

Asia Topics - Pakistani Christians mourning

Recently, more Christians are facing charges under the controversial Muslim Sharia blasphemy laws in Pakistan. Christian families in Lahore were forced to flee for their safety as thousands of Muslim protesters demanded death for Christians in Faisalabad who are alleged to have defamed Islam and its holy book.

Muslim mobs marched July 10–11 in Faisalabad City, in the province of Punjab, demanding the death penalty for two Christians: brothers Rashid Emmanuel, 32, an Evangelical pastor, and Sajid Emmanuel, a graduate business student of Daud Nagar, Faisalabad. They were arrested on July 2 on the charges of writing a pamphlet with blasphemous remarks about Mohammad. They were detained at the Civil Lines Police Station Faisalabad.

According to a report by Minorities Concern of Pakistan, Christian social worker Atif Jamil Pagaan said, “The protests were held in Waris Pura locality where more than 100,000 Christians are living. They wanted to attack and burn the area where Emmanuel brothers’ house was located. The protesters chanted slogans, raised weapons and announced to teach the lesson to the Christian community.”

“They also stoned the Catholic Church in Waris Pura and burnt tires on the roads to show their anger. Despite the presence of the police the protesters did not disperse but announced to continue their protest. The Christian community in Faisalabad city, especially in Waris Pura, the second biggest slum in the city, was scared and many of them fled to their relatives in other towns and villages.”

The mob threatened that if there brothers are not executed according to Muslim law, the mob will exact revenge not only on them, but the entire Christian community, according to Pagaan, who works for the Harmony Foundation.

No evidence to support the charges against them has emerged. The handwritten photo-copied pamphlet, which has so enraged area Muslims, was distributed by unknown persons, yet the names and telephone numbers of the two Christians, Rashid and Sajid, are listed on them, according to Pagaan.

The Christians of the area fear an escalation of violence, just as was the case in Gojra one year ago where nine Christians were burnt alive and more than 120 Christian homes destroyed by Muslim incendiaries who were incensed about allegations that area Christians had defamed Islam.

In another recent case, a Christian family from Model Town Lahore in Punjab province, fled their home July 5, fearing for their lives. Yousaf Masih, a Christian, his wife, Bashrian Bibi, and their son-in-law, Zahid Masih, were accused of blasphemy according to Muslim law. About 2,000 angry Muslims protested against them and tried to burn down their home. The police have filed a case against them under blasphemy laws, having conceded to the Muslim mob. According to local sources, the allegations against the Christians stem from a personal dispute.

Christian human rights activist Saleem Sylvester and his family also fled their home and were forced to live at an unknown location having also fallen afoul of Muslim religious law. According to Sylvester, unknown persons threw some torn pages of Koran on his roof between June 21- 25. Fortunately, they discovered these pages and fled before Muslims could take action. “To save my family I shifted them to a rented house on July 27,” he said via email. “The family is still under threat because after couple of days they received a threatening call on their mobile phone. An application for their safety was submitted to the Superintendent of Police Model Town Circle, Lahore,” wrote Sylvester in a July 9 email.

Although the situation for Christians is quite tense because of the blasphemy laws, two Christians Boota Maish and Riaz Maish, were granted bail under Pakistani blasphemy laws on July 2. They both were arrested by the police on Oct. 30, 2009 and were sent to jail in Lahore.

Religious minorities, including Christians, Hindis, Sikhs, Ahmadi and Shiite Muslims, say that the blasphemy laws, which were introduced by a Pakistani military dictator, are widely misused against them. According to Minorities Concern, “it is evident that in majority of cases the charges are mala fides, such as personal enmity, religious rivalry, property disputes, etc.”

According to Aftab Alexander Mughal of Minorities Concern of Pakistan, his human rights organization has repeatedly demanded that the Pakistani government should repeal the blasphemy laws ”as soon as possible to save the lives of many innocent people and to bring harmony in the society which has been shattered since the promulgation of these contentious laws.”

“Blasphemy laws provide harsh sentences, including the death penalty, and injuring the ‘religious feelings’ of individual citizens is prohibited. Incidents in which police officials take bribes to file false blasphemy charges against Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, and occasionally Muslims continue to occur, with several dozen cases reported each year. No blasphemy convictions have withstood appeal to date, but the charges alone can lead to lengthy detentions, ill-treatment in custody, and persecution by religious extremists,” says Freedom House report Freedom in the World—Pakistan (2010), which was issued in July.

Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent Martin Barillas edits www.SperoForum.com

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