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.
Indonesia’s Christian leaders have urged the country’s president, Joko Widodo, to take action against a radical Islamist group.
This comes after a petition called for the disbandment of the group, which is accused of being responsible for a series of violent attacks against Christians.
The Christian leaders said the Islamic Defenders Front posed a “serious threat to national unity”.
The group was responsible for organising a series of mass rallies in Jakarta at the end of last year, in the wake of the blasphemy accusations that still surround Jakarta’s Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (better known as “Ahok”), as he campaigns for re-election on 15 Feb.
“[His] case has attracted a lot of national and international attention and is seen as a test of religious freedom in the Muslim-majority nation,” says Thomas Muller, analyst at Open Doors, a global charity that supports Christians under pressure for their faith.
“Having mobilised more than 200,000 protestors from across the country, radical Islamic groups seem to be gaining ground. Societies are not radicalised all of a sudden; at first a creeping conservatism will be observed, which begins to limit and then suffocate all minorities. This is the case in Indonesia.”
Muller points to the recent evidence that violations of religious freedom are on the rise in Indonesia and a report by the New York Times focusing on how Sharia by-laws are spreading across the country. He says the province of Aceh is “proudly leading the way as a model for other regions in the implementation of such laws”. Some churches destroyed by extremists there in Oct. 2015 have not been allowed to be re-built.
source World Watch Monitor
(Morning Star News) – A pastor in eastern Uganda and eight other Christians are missing two weeks after a Muslim mob attacked a church prayer meeting, locked the congregation in, beat several members and raped 15 women, sources said.
The approximately 90 Muslims broke into the evening prayer meeting of Katira Church of Uganda, in Katira village, Budaka District at about 8:30 p.m. on Jan. 15 and beat them with clubs and sticks, area sources said. Previously Muslims had only thrown stones at the roof of the church building to disrupt church services of the 500-member congregation, villagers said.
At the evening service, about 80 members were present, and among those who escaped before the doors were locked was a Christian who heard one of the assailants shout, “Away with the pastor who is converting our Muslims to Christianity,” a church leader said.
Pastor Moses Mutasa had been outside questioning some visitors unknown to the church when several others arrived shouting, “Away with the pastor,” and he fled, said the Rev. Musa Mukenye, who oversees several churches in the district’s Iki-iki County.
“We do not know what has happened to our pastor, Moses Mutasa,” Pastor Mukenye told a meeting of local officials, police and other security officers. “He might have been killed or has been kept hostage.”
The assailants locked about half of those in attendance inside the building, (more…)
(Morning Star News) – A Christian in Chiapas state, Mexico was summarily jailed for three days the evening of Jan. 7 for refusing to deny his faith and contribute to Traditionalist Catholic festivals, according to an advocacy group.
Local authorities who practice the Traditionalist Catholic blend of indigenous pagan and Roman Catholic rituals also threatened Juan Gabriel Lopez Perez, 28, that he would not be released unless he sold his house and left the area within 20 days, the Coordination of Christian Organizations (COC) said in a statement. When Lopez Perez fell ill two days into his 72-hour sentence and was temporarily released to obtain medical care, his wife was obliged to serve the time in jail in his place, according to the organization.
Authorities in Rancheria El Encanto, Municipality of Las Margaritas, had given Lopez Perez the option of paying a 5,000-peso (US$240) fine or 72 hours in jail. After refusing to pay the fine, he was sent to jail at 7 p.m. for declining to sign a document denying his evangelical faith and agreeing to contribute to the Traditionalist Catholic festivals, which frequently involve drunkenness.
“On Jan. 9, the health condition of the prisoner were getting worse from the climatic conditions, so that in spite of requests for medical attention, it was not possible until night, when it was proposed that another person go to jail in his place, as a doctor had diagnosed the onset of bronchitis,” the COC statement read. “His wife, Eduvina Lopez Santiz, went into the jail at that time.” (more…)