VOICE OF THE PERSECUTED

United with the Persecuted

Archives

Modern-Day Martyrs Show Love and Forgiveness

father-forgive-them

Two years ago this month Beshir Kamel went on television and thanked so-called Islamic State terrorists for not editing out the last words of his brother and the other Egyptian men they beheaded on a beach in Libya. “Lord, Jesus Christ,” were the last words of the Coptic Christians slaughtered because of their faith. The courage and integrity of their witness strengthened Kamel’s faith. “We are proud to have this number of people from our village who have become martyrs,” he said after his brother’s murder. “Since the Roman era, Christians have… Read more

Sudan Orders Demolition of at Least 25 Church Buildings, Christian Leaders Say

Khartoum, Sudan

Khartoum, Sudan

(Morning Star News) – State officials in Sudan plan to demolish at least 25 church buildings in the Khartoum area, according to Christian leaders.

A June 13, 2016 letter from the Executive Corporation for the Protection of Government Lands, Environment, Roads and Demolition of Irregularities of Khartoum State reveals the names and locations of 25 church buildings marked for demolition, most of them in the Sharq al Neel (East Nile area) locality of Khartoum North. The government reportedly claimed the churches were built on land zoned for other uses, but Christian leaders said it is part of wider crack-down on Christianity.

The Rev. Yahia Abdelrahim Nalu, moderator of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church’s (SPEC) Sudan Evangelical Synod, told Morning Star News the subsequent order was part of a systematic attack on churches by the Islamist government.

“This is not an isolated act but should be taken with wider perspective,” he said.

The order targets a wide range of denominations, from Roman Catholic to Pentecostal.

The Sudan Council of Churches denounced the order at a Feb. 11 press conference, calling on the government to reconsider the decision or provide alternative sites for the churches. The Rev. Mubarak Hamad, chairman of the Sudan Council of Churches, said at the conference in Khartoum that mosques located in the same area were spared from the demolition order.

Hamad said the order was aimed at 27 church buildings, including a Presbyterian Church of Sudan in Jebel Aulia, and one belonging to the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) in Soba al Aradi, both south of Khartoum.

The order by Mohamad el Sheikh Mohamad, general manager of Khartoum State’s land department in the Ministry of Physical Planning, urged that it be implemented immediately.

“I am hereby issuing the order of demolition of the churches that are attached to residential areas and public playgrounds in neighborhoods of East Nile locality,” Mohamad wrote in a cover letter dated June 20, 2016 to the Executive Corporation.

Among the 25 church buildings listed are three located on public playgrounds; the rest are located in residential areas, according to the order.

Last Sept. 29, officials from Khartoum state’s Ministry of Planning and Urban Development notified leaders of the Presbyterian Church of Sudan (PCOS) that they had 72 hours to vacate their property. The church building was one of five that officials at that time said were slated for demolition to make way for investor development.

“We were surprised as a church at such a move,” a member of the church told Morning Star News at that time. “The church building has been there since 1991We are still worshiping there but fearful of the demolition any time.”

The church, whose Sunday attendance ranges from 80 to 150 people, declined to vacate as they had no alternative site for worship, he said. The letter from state officials asserted the land on which the church building was situated was designated as private property for gardens.

Three Sudanese Church of Christ congregations, along with one belonging to the Episcopal Church of Sudan, also received demolition notices on Sept. 29.

Sudan since 2012 has bulldozed church buildings and harassed and expelled foreign Christians, usually on the claim that the buildings belonged to South Sudanese. The Sudanese Minister of Guidance and Endowments announced in April 2013 that no new licenses would be granted for building new churches in Sudan, citing a decrease in the South Sudanese population.

The government’s decision to issue no new church building licenses came after South Sudan seceded from Sudan in July 2011, when President Omar al-Bashir vowed to adopt a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and the Arabic language.

After bulldozing a Lutheran Church of Sudan (LCS) building on Oct. 21, 2015, authorities in the Karari area of Omdurman demolished an SCOC building on Oct. 27, 2015 without prior warning, church leaders said. Local authorities said the SCOC building was on government land, a claim church leaders adamantly denied.

Karari officials in Omdurman, across the Nile River from Khartoum, reportedly authorized the demolition of the church building claiming it was built on government land allocated for a field. In the demolishing of the LCS church on Oct. 21, the local authorities said it was built on land allocated for business, though a mosque stands nearby.

Ethnic Nuba have long suffered discrimination from the Arab population and authorities of Sudan. The Nuba people have longstanding complaints against Khartoum, including neglect, persecution and forced conversions to Islam in a 1990s jihad.

Sudan fought a civil war with the south Sudanese from 1983 to 2005, and in June 2011, shortly before the secession of South Sudan the following month, the government began fighting a rebel group in the Nuba Mountains that has its roots in South Sudan.

Sudanese authorities on Feb. 17, 2014 demolished another SCOC church building in Omdurman without prior notice. Bulldozers accompanied by local police and personnel from of Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) destroyed the worship building in the Ombada area of Omdurman, sources said.

On Aug. 24, 2014, NISS agents padlocked the building of the 500-member Sudan Pentecostal Church (SPC) in Khartoum, which housed the Khartoum Christian Center (KCC).

Due to its treatment of Christians and other human rights violations, Sudan has been designated a Country of Particular Concern by the U.S. State Department since 1999, and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended the country remain on the list in its 2016 report.

Hope for victims of the Nigerian conflict claiming more lives than Boko Haram

In the village of Goska, houses were destroyed, churches burnt and shops vandalised in a December attack. World Watch Monitor

In the village of Goska, houses were destroyed, churches burnt and shops vandalised in a December attack. World Watch Monitor

The two Nigerian villages are barely five minutes’ drive apart. In one, Goska, houses were destroyed, churches burnt, shops vandalized, carcasses of animals littered the streets and most of the village remains deserted. The other, Dangoma, remains intact, untouched by the shadows of violence.

Goska and Dangoma both lie in the Jema’a area of southern Kaduna in Nigeria’s Middle Belt; however, Goska is an indigenous community that is predominantly Christian, while Dangoma is a settler community, mostly Fulani and Muslim.

A Goska resident confirmed the attack in December to a researcher for World Watch Monitor

There seems to be a worrying pattern. The contrast between Goska and Dangoma after last December’s attack “is a metaphor for the violent conflict in southern Kaduna,” a researcher in Nigeria, who did not wish to be named, told World Watch Monitor.

Similar violent conflicts are affecting many other local communities across Kaduna State, and most are deliberate, well organised and executed, he added.

The selective nature of the conflict can be seen in the way individuals and families, towns, properties and communities are targeted: where indigenous Christians and settler Fulani Muslims live side by side, Christian homes are attacked while Fulani Muslim settlers are left alone.

Many experts now believe that this Middle Belt violence is responsible for more deaths than Boko Haram, which in 2016 experienced both internal splits and external military defeats by the Nigerian Army.In response, the local and federal governments have launched a range of military initiatives, while a local Catholic diocese is embarking on the painstaking work of dialogue and reconciliation.Following an attack on the convoy of the Kaduna Governor, Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, in December, a 24-hour curfew was declared in three Local Government Areas, empowering the security forces to protect lives and property, as World Watch Monitor reported. It has since been scaled back to a 12-hour period (6pm-6am) and covers just one area, and the state government has introduced measures to forestall any future violence.

Meanwhile the federal government ordered the Nigerian Army to establish a base in southern Kaduna. The chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai, gave assurances to local leaders that the army was there not to take sides but to restore peace.

As part of the peace measures, the federal government has also given approval for the building of another military barracks in southern Kaduna, in Kafanchan in the Jema’a area.

In the diocese of Kafanchan, the Catholic Church says that over 800 died between 2011 and the end of 2016. Many groups and individuals, including Peter Bawa, the Chairman of the Northern Christian Youth Assembly, have commended Governor El-Rufai for initiatives taken so far, believing that they will go a long way to curtail the menace of herdsmen who have plunged many communities in the area into mourning.

However, some of southern Kaduna’s indigenous population interviewed by World Watch Monitor felt the government was militarising the conflict. Military force is sometimes used in conflict as the first and not the last resort, often without civilian engagement.

For instance, according to Environmental Rights Action of Nigeria in its book Blanket of Silence: Images of the Odi Genocide, then-President Obasanjo responded to the 1999 civil unrest in the town of Odi in Bayelsa State by sending in “27 five-ton vehicles loaded with over 2,000 troops, four armoured personnel carriers … three 81mm mortar guns and two pieces of 105mm Howitzer Artillery guns, and they killed a total of 2,483 people”.

The violent activities of Boko Haram since 2009 were also followed by the deployment of the military, a civilian joint-task force, various local vigilantes, and hunters. Yet the conflict has escalated and not ended. Sending military to southern Kaduna may not provide a solution.Other critics have faulted the government for positioning the new barracks in Kafanchan, where so much bloodshed has occurred, saying they suspect the Kafanchan base is meant to protect a “settler” chief, who is not accepted by the indigenous people.

Locals told World Watch Monitor that there is a cry for the building of genuine community engagement, and against policies that enhance social exclusion, marginalisation and injustice, and for dealing with these. It is important, say those involved, to give victims, women and children a voice, otherwise the conflict is only suspended, not ended.

In response to all this, the Kukah Centre, a mediating institution set up by the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, Matthew Hassaan Kukah, has initiated a project on Memory and Healing in Southern Kaduna. The centre is committed to promoting shared national identity and citizenship as a bedrock for healing, peace and stability in southern Kaduna, and to that end is documenting victims’ memories of the conflict. Using inter-group dialogue and community engagement, it provides a platform for victims and ordinary people to be heard.

Some activities to begin next month include a high-level consultation with the Kaduna government, supported by the independently-run National Peace Committee. The centre is also planning 10 community engagements in four Local Government Areas badly affected by the conflict: Sanga, Jama’a, Kauru and Kaura. The groups of participants will cut across socio-cultural, religious and political divides.

Additionally, victims will be enabled to recount their stories in 10 focus-group discussions and five roundtable conversations with organisations such as Southern Kaduna’s Women’s and Youth Forums, Jamaatul Nasri Islma, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders’ Association of Nigeria, Muslim Youth Forum of Southern Kaduna, Southern Kaduna Peoples Union and Young Professionals Forum.

The Kukah Centre is also planning to build memorials for victims of the conflict.

Achieving an end to the conflict has benefits beyond the humanitarian goal of ending the spectre of burnt-out homes and animal carcasses rotting in destroyed villages. Last year, the aid agency Mercy Corps said that if peace came to just four Middle Belt states – Kaduna, Benue, Nasarawa and Plateau – Nigeria would stand to gain up to US $13.7 billion annually in total economic progress.

Pastor in India Assaulted by Hindu Extremists

The Rev. Gandham Padma Rao in ICU at Medlife Hospital, Mancherial. (Morning Star News courtesy of family)

The Rev. Gandham Padma Rao in ICU at Medlife Hospital, Mancherial. (Morning Star News courtesy of family)

India (Morning Star News) – A week after a pastor fell into a coma following harassment by hard-line Hindus in southern India, a gang of Hindu extremists in the same state beat another pastor after he prayed for healing at the home of an elderly church member, family members said.

Police altered the statement of the Rev. Gandham Padma Rao, 49, so that the 10 young men who assaulted him on Jan. 27 in Medipally village, Telangana state, were described only as drunken youths, not members of a Hindu nationalist group as the pastor had stated, his son told Morning Star News.

Pastor Rao fulfilled church duties the two days after the assault before seeking medical help, and doctors told family members that his blood pressure was so high that he could have suffered a hemorrhage had he waited any longer. Another pastor, 47-year-old K.A. Swamy of Hyderabad, on Jan. 21 fell into a coma after suffering high blood pressure and a brain hemorrhage hours after Hindu extremists threatened him with highly offensive language and took him to police for distributing Bibles.

Pastor Rau’s son, Samuel Mark, told Morning Star News his father had left the home of the elderly church member, who had just been released from a hospital, at about 9:30 p.m. and was walking to his car when the young men blocked his way with their motorcycles.

When the pastor ignored them and began walking on the other side of the road, one of the assailants shouted, “Why are you coming to our village? Why are you praying here?” as four others began hitting him, knocking him to the ground, relatives said.

Pastor Rao and eyewitnesses said the youths were members of the Hindu nationalist Vishwa Hindu Vahini.

“They spoke to me in vulgar language: ‘You must never come to our village to pray. You should never enter our village,’” Pastor Rao told Morning Star News.

Two of the assailants held him while the others punched and kicked him, he said.

“I could not balance myself and fell in a pit nearby,” he said. “They picked me up, threw me on the road and started battering me again. I tried hard to regain my strength and run, but they followed me quickly held my collar, pushed me off with their feet. When I fell down again, they began kicking and beating me again.”

One of the Hindu extremists tried to pick up a large stone and throw it at him, he said. Area residents heard his cries and came out of their homes, including a member of his church who came running and cried out for help.

The church member, identified only as Mariyamma, along with her relatives and other area residents said the assailants were members of the Vishwa Hindu Vahini. A First Information Report was filed in the NTPC Ramagundam police station, but police removed references to the Hindu nationalist group from Pastor Rao’s statement and described the assailants only as drunken wage workers, his son said.

Sub-Inspector P. Chandra Kumar told Morning Star News only that the suspects were young men in police custody.

“The investigation is not yet completed,” he said. “Yes, it is true that the pastor was beaten and the attackers were all youngsters in between ages 24 and 27.”

He declined to reveal the identity of the assailants, but sources said the primary suspect, Chandragiri Shiva Prasad, was in custody.

Pastor Rao drove back to his home in Ramakrishnapuram, where he conducted a baptism ceremony at his church the next day. The following day (Jan. 29), he took painkillers and carried out duties at his church’s Sunday service, but later that afternoon he felt light-headed and was taken to a hospital.

His blood pressure was 200 over 140 mmHg, Dr. D.B. Vamsi told Morning Star News, and the pastor was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit at Medilife Hospital, Mancherial. A hypertensive crisis is said to begin when blood pressure reaches 180 over 110 mmHG.

“The patient complained of pain,” Vamsi said. “Immediately after we heard about the assault, we sent for more tests. His pains will last for a few weeks.”

The pastor’s family members told Morning Star News that the church’s cross was uprooted and broken two years ago. The church’s sound equipment was destroyed a year ago, and in December, while he joined in Christmas carols, the pastor’s car was punctured with nails, they said.

Family members and visiting pastors said the attack appeared to have been planned. They said the Hindu extremists knew how to strike him so that there would be no bleeding but multiple contusions.

The pastor’s son told Morning Star that his father has been unable to lie down since his back was severely bruised.

“My dad went to visit the families who had been attending our church over years now,” he said. “He had no business to do with the assailants. He didn’t bother anyone. He didn’t even respond to them when they shouted at him. All of a sudden, they began kicking him on the road. Don’t you see it was all planned?”

Demonstration of Christian Iraqi refugees: we do not want to go back to our Country

Iraqi Christians protests (Fox News)

Iraqi Christians protests (Fox News)

VOP Note: According to reports. Lebanon has the highest per-capita concentration of refugees in the world. 1 out of every four people is a refugee.

Despite the numbers, Lebanon has a “no camp” policy which means refugees are not allowed to settle in large scale camps. Instead, they are forced to live in temporary shelters, often on waste land. Refugees are not entitled to work and have difficulty accessing schools and healthcare in Lebanon.

(Agenzia Fides) – On February 13, a small procession of about two hundred Christian Iraqi refugees staged a symbolic demonstration outside the local UN headquarters in downtown Beirut to demand their requests to travel to other countries, filed some time ago in the competent offices of several foreign diplomatic representations operating in the Lebanese capital. The posters displayed by the protesters, and the statements made by some of them to the local press, confirm the impression that most of the exiled Christian refugees from Iraq have no intention of returning to their Country, and do not even intend to take root in Lebanon but are hoping to emigrate as soon as possible towards some Western nation.

According to data provided by the local Chaldean community, difficult to verify, about 8 thousand Iraqi Christians emigrated to Lebanon, especially after the conquest of Mosul and Nineveh Plain by the jihadist Islamic State (Daesh).

US President Donald Trump, who began a tug of war with some US judges to impose provisions designed to limit or suspend immigration from certain countries with a Muslim majority, has instead recognized as a “priority” the granting of refugee legal status to the category of “persecuted Christians”. The idea of preparing a “fast track” open for Christian refugees entering the United States, while doors are closed to non-Christian citizens from Countries with an Islamic majority, “has been defined by Chaldean Patriarch Raphael Louis Sako I a “Trap” for Christians in the Middle East (see Fides 30/01/2017). “Every host country policy that discriminates against the persecuted and those who suffer on religious grounds”, explains Patriarch Louis Raphael, Primate of the Eastern Catholic Church, to which the vast majority of Iraqi Christians belong”, ultimately harms the Christians of the East, because among other things provi des arguments to all propaganda and prejudice that attack the native community of the Middle East as ‘foreign bodies’, groups supported and defended by Western powers”.

Please pray for our brothers and sisters seeking refuge from persecution.

Reminder: It was the Church that aided 1st century persecuted Christian refugees.

 vop-3-john-5-8

Iranian Christian Prisoner On Hunger Strike in Critical Health Condition

amin_afsharnaderi_mohabatnews-3

An Iranian Christian convert who recently started a hunger strike is in a critical health condition. He went on a hunger strike to protest the unfair handling of his case, as Iranian authorities have been keeping him in prison in uncertainty.

Mohabat News – Reports coming from Iran indicate that Iranian Christian prisoner, Amin Afshar Naderi is in critical condition in Evin prison. He began his hunger strike more than a week ago.

He had been arrested together with five other Christians in Firouz-kouh county. While three of those arrested were released, Mr. Naderi and another Christian believer were held in prison.

Mr. Naderi together with another Christian prisoner Hadi Asgari, have been on a hunger strike since February 5, 2017. The latest reports by sources close to Mr. Naderi state that the hunger strike has resulted in significant weight loss and a drop in his blood pressure.

These two Christian prisoners have been on a hunger strike to protest the unfair handling of their case and being held in uncertainty in prison before even being convicted of charges laid against them.

This is not the first time Mr. Naderi has been in prison for his faith. He had been arrested in 2014 as he attended a house church. On that occasion, he was detained for 40 days and spent some of that time in solitary confinement in ward 209 of the notorious Evin prison. He was later released on heavy bail.

Other Christian prisoners who have recently been on a hunger strike are Ebrahim Firouzi and Maryam ( Nasim) Naghash Zargaran. Their hunger strike was also to protest the unfair handling of their cases and the fabricated charges against them.

In a report published in September 2016, individuals close to these prisoners told Mohabat News, “the greatest concern of the families of these Christian men is that the authorities may fabricate charges against them, as they found three Bibles in their gathering. They are also concerned that authorities would put their loved ones under pressure, forcing them to confess to crimes they have not committed.”

 

 

Pakistani Christians ‘attacked’ as land dispute escalates

The Alba Presbyterian Church in Sankhatra, Narowal District, Pakistan. World Watch Monitor

The Alba Presbyterian Church in Sankhatra, Narowal District, Pakistan.
World Watch Monitor

(World Watch Monitor) More than 200 men, some armed with sticks, suddenly gathered on Wednesday morning (8 Feb) beside the Alba Presbyterian Church in Sankhatra, 115km north of Lahore, intent on building a boundary wall.

“Children were going to school and men were leaving for work when this large number stormed into the area and started construction,” said Asher Moon, 38, the church’s pastor. “Some of our men and women tried to intervene but they were called names and men armed with sticks beat them.”

Sankhatra is part of Narowal District, where Presbyterian missionaries from the US city of Philadelphia journeyed in 1855 to begin a mission that would spread the message of Christianity across Punjab, which had only come under British rule in 1849.

Thirty Christian families still live in Sankhatra, but their land has been under legal threat.

Moon, who took over the leadership of the church when his father died in 2011, said the police were “reluctant to register a case” against the attackers, although five women and a 13-year-old boy were among those hurt.

“For [the police], our being insulted has no meaning,” he said.

“We called the emergency response police three times, but they only arrived after two hours, after the crowd had beaten and insulted our men and women. The construction work was still going on and we showed them a magistrate’s injunction that no party can change the current status until the ownership of the land is decided in the court, but the police refused to acknowledge this court order.”

The legal battle has been raging for ownership of the 1750-square-yard piece of land since April 2016.

“It was even worse at that time,” said Moon. “They brought bulldozers and fired shots in the air and beat our men and women. They even demolished some of our houses.”

Moon said they had “rushed to court” to obtain an injunction against their eviction. They received it and the court case is ongoing.

But Moon said that last week “false propaganda” was spread that the court had ended the temporary injunction, leading the men to think they could return to demolish more buildings.

“Most of our people are illiterate and work menial jobs, so [the locals] had thought that it would be easy to fool them,” he said. But Moon had the injunction renewed at court on 6 February.

Chaudhry Kashir, a local Christian councillor, told World Watch Monitor that the attackers want to set up a market of between 50 to 100 shops on the land, which is beside a main road.

“The other party has documents that show that someone gave this [government-owned] land to the Christians for living about seven decades ago but there is no valid proof that is provided in the court yet,” he said. “Mostly, civil litigation on land issues goes on for 20 to 30 years in Pakistan. So parties indulge in criminally evicting the weaker side to show to the court that they are in possession of the land to strengthen their case.”

A local police officer, Ishtiaq Ahmed, said he didn’t know if the land had ever been owned by the government, but that the Christians were “lying” in saying that “this is their land, or that they have any connection with it”.

“The other party had legal documents,” he added.

Ahmed also claimed that no violence had taken place on Wednesday morning – only a “verbal clash”.

“If their women had been beaten, then the police would have registered a case,” he said. “There are no houses on the land and I don’t know if there were houses 10 months ago that were demolished.”

But Moon said there have been Christian homes on the land “since my childhood”.

“I was told that there used to be a pond for sanitary water but when the sewerage system was set up, this pond dried up and Christians filled it in with earth and built their homes,” he said. “Now this land has commercial value and they are trying to snatch it from us. Our opponents have encroached on the church land too: up to five feet on one side of the church, and 15 feet on the other side.

“The same police who were unwilling to register a case, and then were unwilling to accept the court injunction, are now having to acknowledge the court injunction because of pressure from higher authorities.”

Several attacks on Pakistan’s Christian minority have been linked to land disputes and it is thought this has also been the motive in several accusations of blasphemy against Christians. Incidents include the 2009 Gojra communal violence in which seven Christians died; the blasphemy accusation against 16-year-old Rimsha Masih in 2012 and the Joseph Colony arson attack in Lahore in March 2013.

As World Watch Monitor reported last year, Christians were also threatened with eviction from government land in Islamabad, the capital, because their “ugly” settlements spoil the landscape of “one of the most beautiful cities in the world”.

It used to be prohibited for members of the so-called “untouchable” castes – which includes many Christians – to buy land. Even today, most Christians live in irregular or illegal settlements on government land.

Background

Narowal is significant for the Pakistani Christian population because it’s the district where Christianity first started to spread through Presbyterian missionary Andrew Gordon in 1855.

In 1873 there were only about 4,000 Christians in Punjab, from diverse metropolitan backgrounds.

Then, 10 miles from Narowal, in 1873 an “untouchable” man known as “Ditt” (who had to skin dead animals and pick up garbage from the streets to survive) converted to Christianity. Ditt spread the Gospel among his caste in surrounding villages as US and European missionaries spread education and healthcare. From 1881, the number of Christians in Punjab multiplied from just a few thousand to over half a million by 1941.

Christian, 70, Charged with Blasphemy in Pakistan as 106 Muslims Are Acquitted

 

 

 

 

 

Muslim mob burn down and destroy entire Christian neighborhood for blasphemy charge claimed to be false.

Muslim mob burn down and destroy entire Christian neighborhood for blasphemy charge claimed to be false.

Pakistan (Morning Star News) – A 70-year-old Christian in Pakistan was jailed on blasphemy charges on the same day 106 Muslims accused in a 2013 attack on a Christian colony were acquitted.

A mosque leader in the Lambanwali area north of Gujranwala, Punjab Province, on Jan. 28 accused Mukhtar Masih of writing two letters containing derogatory remarks about the Koran and Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, police records show. He was charged under Section 295-A, deliberate and malicious acts intending to outrage religious feelings, which carries a sentence of 10 years of prison and/or a fine, and under Section 298, derogatory remarks against “holy personages,” punishable by three years’ imprisonment and/or fine.

Police raided Masih’s house on Jan. 28 and took his entire family into custody, an area source told Morning Star News.

“The police took with them Masih, his son, daughter, and three children,” he said. “The family was later released on the intervention of rights outfits, but Masih was detained under blasphemy charges.”

The source said that the charges against Masih were fabricated by local Muslims seeking to seize his property. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are often used to settle personal scores, and Islamist groups and lawyers advocating the harshest punishments often apply pressure for convictions on police and courts.

Mosque leader Qari Shahbaz Hussain alleges in the First Information Report (FIR No. 49/17) that area residents on Jan. 26 brought to his notice two letters containing the alleged blasphemous comments. He stated that an investigation by a local committee he headed revealed the letters were written by Masih.

Hussain claimed in the FIR that the committee had found Masih guilty and sought his prosecution under blasphemy charges. Hussain and other accusers were unavailable for comment, and Masih’s relatives have gone into hiding and were also unavailable.

The investigating officer refused repeated requests for comment, citing orders from his superiors.

Also on Jan. 28, an Anti-Terrorism Court in Lahore acquitted 106 Muslims accused of a massive attack on Joseph Colony, sparked by a blasphemy accusation in March 2013, after prosecution witnesses said they did not recognize any of the accused assailants.

More than 80 prosecution witnesses, 63 of them with statements recorded about the attack that destroyed more than 150 homes, said they did not recognize the accused. The 106 suspects, who were released on bail the day they were accused, appeared before judge Muhammad Azam.

On March 9, 2013, thousands of rioters armed with sticks, clubs and stones besieged Joseph Colony and torched the houses in the predominantly Christian neighborhood following allegations of blasphemy against a Christian, Sawan Masih.

The mob also torched three church buildings, several shops and a number of vehicles. Police later arrested both the rioters and the blasphemy suspect, who was charged under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) for derogatory remarks about Muhammad, which mandates the death penalty.

Sawan Masih was sentenced to death on March 28, 2014. His appeal against the conviction is pending in the Lahore High Court.

Witnesses and police said the enraged mob ransacked and burned the entire locality a day after all Christian families left the area, as police apparently had alerted them about the possibility of an attack. The affected people, however, also accused police of doing nothing to stop the attack and plunder.

Blasphemy Suspect Released on Bail

Separately, a Christian facing the death penalty on blasphemy charges was granted bail by the Supreme Court on Wednesday (Feb 1) because of gaps in the investigation of his case, sources said.

Evangelist Adnan Prince had been in prison since Nov. 6, 2013, after he sought to correct misconceptions about Christianity in a Muslim book. He was charged with outraging religious feelings (Section 295-A), defiling the Koran (295-B) and derogatory remarks against Muhammad (295-C) of Pakistan’s widely condemned blasphemy laws. He denied having written anything against Islam or Muhammad when he scribbled in a Muslim book he found in a glassworks shop where his brother worked.

The accused’s lead counsel, Asma Jahangir, indicated that deficiencies in the case against Prince led to his release on bail. She told reporters that there were no direct eyewitnesses, and all forensic evidence failed to link the accused in the case against her client.

She added that the case should have been decided within two years. Prince was jailed on Nov. 9, 2013. Jahangir said the case was not decided within two years due to lawyers’ strikes and prosecution delay tactics. She added that legal formalities were not fulfilled when investigating the matter.

“According to guidelines passed by the Supreme Court, a police officer not below the rank of a superintendent should have conducted the probe,” she reportedly said.

Attorney Nadeem Anthony, another member of Prince’s defense team, said that on the court’s directions, Sections 295-A and 295-B have been dropped, and the evangelist is facing only 295-C, punishable by death.

Blasphemy suspects have long been targeted by Islamist vigilantes in Pakistan. At least 65 people, including lawyers, defendants and judges, have been murdered over blasphemy allegations since 1990, according to figures from a Center for Research and Security Studies report and local media.

A three-member bench headed by Justice Dost Muhammad Khan on Wednesday (Feb. 1) ordered Prince’s release on bail.

HELP SAVE THE PERSECUTED

HELP SAVE THE PERSECUTED

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

PRAY UNITED FOR THE PERSECUTED

OUR VOICES CRY OUT FOR THE PERSECUTED CHURCH IN PRAYER

%d bloggers like this: