(Voice of the Persecuted) The Christian area of Sanda/Glushan Ravi, in the oldest area of Lahore was attacked by a violent mob on Sunday, May 24 following another case of alleged blasphemy. Police arrested a Christian man, Humayun Faisal Masih after local Muslims accused him of allegedly desecrating pages of the Quran and a violent mob gathered in the Christian community. A blasphemy case has been registered under Article 295-b of the Pakistani Penal Code. Before his arrest, the mob wanted to burn him alive, said residents.
Some claim after the media shared alarming and exaggerated reports, Christian families fled their homes when alerted that a large mob was heading towards their community. Others claim a religious leader instigated the violence at a Mosque. The mob ransacked and looted several houses burning furniture and other household belongings. They set out to burn a local church, but were stopped by the police. Some of the culprits hurled stones at the officers, injuring six.
A local priest claimed the accused, was burning a newspaper with holy verses. Villagers described Masih as mentally unstable and not understanding of the seriousness in the matter.
Authorities claim that a large force of police have been deployed to the area to keep things under control.
Pakistan is a democratic nation. It is a signatory to the universally accepted Charter of Human Rights. Its constitution guarantees its people the right to choose and the freedom of worship. But in spite of this,
- 1982, President Zia-ul-Haq introduced section 295B to the Pakistan Penal Code, which has a punishment of life in prison for “defiling the Quran”.
- 1984, President Zia ul-Haq introduced the Hudood (Punishment) Ordinances which “define crimes against Islam” and “enforce punishment for those who commit such crimes”. In hudood cases, the testimony of a non-Muslim is considered to be worth half that of a Muslim.
- 1986, Extremists pressured General Zia-ul-Haq to add 295-C for “use of derogatory remarks in respect of the Holy Prophet. A detrimental turning point for religious minorities.
- 1990, the Federal Shariat Court ruled that the penalty should be a mandatory death sentence, with no right to a reprieve or pardon. Known as the blasphemy law, section 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code 1860 states that any person who ‘by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly’ defiles the name of the Prophet Mohammad or other holy personages, is liable for blasphemy. In addition to a fine, he shall be punished with the death sentence or life imprisonment. And that only a Muslim Judge may hear the case under this section of the law (Section 295-C).
- 1990-91 In Oct. 1990, the Federal Shariat Court struck down the option of life imprisonment and made the death penalty obligatory, along with a high fine. Also, the expression wilfully or intentionally in the text of the law is absent, making it suspicious for the reason that “will” or “intention” is an essential part of human behavior in the context of identifying a criminal offence. Thus under section 295-C, the law is required to punish the “unintentional” offence equally as in the case of an “intentional” offense, without justification. (The FSC ruled that, if the President did not take action to amend the law before 30 April 1991, theny 295-C would stand amended by its ruling.)
- 1990, Promptly after the FSC’s ruling in 1990, Bishop Dani L. Tasleem filed an appeal in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, which has the power to overrule the FSC. In April 2009, the Shariat Appellate Bench of the Supreme Court considered the appeal. Deputy Attorney-General Agha Tariq Mehmood, who represented the federal government, said that the Shariat Appellate Bench dismissed the appeal because the appellant did not pursue it. The appellant did not present any argument on the appeal because the appellant, according to reports, was no longer alive.
- 2010, Salman Taseer, then governor of Punjab, said Pakistan’s blasphemy laws were being misused to persecute religious minorities. He also called for the release of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who he claimed was wrongly convicted and sentenced to death for violating the blasphemy laws. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and senior government officials indicated Bibi would be pardoned if the courts rejected her appeal. Another government official announced plans for a committee to consider changes to the blasphemy laws.
- 2011, On January 4, a security guard killed Taseer with more than 20 bullets in broad daylight at an upscale Islamabad shopping plaza. Pakistan’s religious right hailed the killer as a hero. Religious leaders demanded the government promise not to change the blasphemy laws. Prime Minister of Pakistan Yousuf Raza Gilani once again said that there would be no amendments to the blasphemy law.
Those accused endure persecution in the form of harassment, threats, attacks, death contracts and assassination attempts. Scores have been murdered. Most accused of blasphemy are often arrested immediately, denied bail and placed in solitary confinement for their protection from other inmates and guards. Authorities justify this treatment to prevent mob violence. Often, arrests are made without evidence to confirm the accusations. In cases of blasphemy, police, lawyers, and judges may also be pressured or threatened, making it harder or next to impossible for the accused to have a fair trial. Many are killed before their respective trials. Those who are acquitted of blasphemy usually go into hiding or leave Pakistan, due to the threat of being assassinated by extremists.
Bishop John Joseph, was a Roman Catholic Bishop of Faisalabad known by Pakistani Christians as a fearless defender of the faith. He claimed the blasphemy laws were not only misused to make life unbearable for Christians, but directly responsible for dividing the Christian and Muslim citizens instigating discrimination, mistrust and hatred. In 1998, he shot himself as desperate effort that he hoped would finally end the atrocities being committed against the Christian community.
Before his death he wrote: “I shall count myself extremely fortunate if in this mission of breaking the barriers, our Lord accepts the sacrifice of my blood for the benefit of his people.”
It’s been nearly 20 years since the Bishop’s death, but injustice has continued. Radicalization has caused a chasm between the faiths to widen. Today, religious minorities are more endangered by the blasphemy law than they were in 1998. We have heard Pakistani Christians and Muslims say that they no longer recognize their own country and greatly fear for the country’s future. Deplorably, those who speak out against the abuses do so with great risk to their lives. Some have been murdered including prominent figures who opposed blasphemy laws such as Salman Taseer, the former governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister for Minorities.
This law clearly discriminates against religious minorities. It is frequently used unjustly to settle unrelated personal/political disputes, or for revenge. It also gives extremists cause to instigate violence and unleash terror, mainly with impunity. Innocents have been brutally murdered. Such is the case of a Christian man and his pregnant wife who were falsely accused of burning a Quran, last November. Incited by the blasphemy accusation, an enraged mob horrifically beat then burned the couple to death in a brick kiln oven.
The international community expressed great shock and outrage upon hearing of the gruesome murder. VOP along with a multitude across the globe called on the Pakistani government for justice. Now, what is being called a step towards justice, over 100 people have been indicted for the murder. Three imams (religious leaders) of local mosques, the owner of the brick kiln and three other men, have been accused of inciting the mob.
Unverified reports are claiming at least 40 people have been placed under arrest and 500 others charged in last Sunday’s mob violence.
In the well-known case of Asia Bibi, mother of five, sentenced to death and sitting in a cell for 5 years, claims she too has been falsely accused of blasphemy. Following the infamous blasphemy case involving young Rimsha Masih, over 400 Christian families were forced to flee Mehrabad. Though the mentally-challenged girl was acquitted after it was found that a local cleric who accused the teenager of burning pages of the Koran, fabricated evidence to cause resentment against the Christians. The case against Rimsha was soon dropped. He was later acquitted when the prosecution ruled there was not sufficient evidence to convict the cleric. But producing the outcome the Imam sought in his scheme, the residents of her former neighborhood were terrorized and forced to leave. Rimsha and her family were eventually granted asylum in another country to protect their lives.
In early 2013, more than a hundred houses were burned down in the Christian neighborhood of Joseph colony in Lahore, after a Christian was accused of blasphemy. These are only a few of blasphemy charges brought against Christians, there are many others.
Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan have faced discrimination and persecution for too long. It is extremely stressful for them to live in constant fear of being attacked at any moment. Much change is needed pertaining to Pakistan’s Blasphemy law and equality for religious minorities. All citizens should be given legal representation, honest and full investigations of the charges, and fair trials. As we see in this new case and the attack it has brought on, those inciting violence, religious or otherwise, should be held accountable and brought to justice. A ‘No Tolerance’ policy with the promise of assured legal action and punishment should be immediately implemented. Religious leaders must do more to promote harmony between Pakistani citizens, no matter their faith. This may be the only way to stop further attacks on innocent minorities who want nothing more than to coexist with their Muslim neighbors and live in peace.
The global community must speak out against this violence and abuse of human rights in Pakistan. We must call on the Pakistani government to protect minorities, repeal or amend this currently dangerous law. And for the immediate release of all those being held and imprisoned for blasphemy. We call on world governments to refrain from sending financial aid until Pakistan shows it is committed to protecting minorities.
Please pray for Pakistan. Too many, including Christians are unaware of what’s happening to our Pakistani brothers and sisters. Stand with them, be their VOICE and do not be discouraged. In Christ, we can make a difference!
Voice of the Persecuted is working to help and encourage extremely persecuted Christians living in Pakistan. They need our help to seek asylum for the protection of their lives and that of their families. Providing them a ‘safe place’, basic needs, emergency medical care and education for their children is extremely important. Converts and their families are often persecuted, which forces them underground with little means to care their families, they too need our love and understanding.
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