LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – A Christian sanitation worker in Pakistan died on Thursday (June 1) after Muslim doctors refused to treat him for poisonous gas he was exposed to in a sewer, sources said.
Doctors at Civil Hospital Medical refused to treat 28-year-old Irfan Masih of Umerkot City, Sindh Province, saying they did not want to touch the filth-covered worker during the Islamic month of Ramandan, Masih’s brother told Morning Star News.
Babar Masih said that his brother entered a deep manhole to clear a sewage line but smelled poisonous gas and called out for help.
“Irfan’s coworkers did not have the equipment to pull him out, so another worker, Yaqoob Masih, descended into the manhole to rescue him,” he said. “However, both men inhaled the fumes and fainted. Two other Christian sanitary workers, Faisal Masih and Shaukat Masih, went after them but they also fainted.”
Area passers-by managed to rescue the four men, who were taken to Umerkot Civil Hospital, he said. The doctors on duty, however, said they were fasting and would not touch the Christian, who was covered in sewage filth, he said.
“The doctors said they refused to treat him because they were fasting and said he was ‘napaak [unclean],’” Baba Masih said.
Family members cleaned Masih’s body, he added, after which the doctors sent for an oxygen cylinder.
“But the cylinder was empty” he said. “And, before they could arrange another cylinder, he died.”
The family then held a protest, carrying his body from the hospital to the Umerkot Press Club, where they demonstrated for about 10 hours, demanding the registration of a criminal case.
Based on a complaint by Irfan Masih’s father, Nazeer Masih, Umerkot Police registered a case on Friday (June 2) against Civil Hospital Medical Superintendent Jam Kunbhar, a medical officer identified only as Yusuf and duty doctor Allahdad Rathore, and three employees of the Umerkot Municipal Committee – Sanitation Inspector Behari Lal, Khalid Khoso and Sarwan Malhi. Kunbhar was reportedly arrested.
The doctors are accused of criminal negligence and manslaughter under sections 319 and 34 of the Pakistan Penal Code, for allegedly refusing Irfan Masih treatment.
Health Director General Akhlaq Khan reportedly said that after his initial investigation, Irfan Masih’s death was not a result of the doctors’ negligence, but that they were at fault to some degree.
Officials from the Pakistan Medical Association later carried out a demonstration against the arrest of Kunbhar and case filed against the doctors, claiming that the accusations were fabricated. They threatened to boycott the Outdoor Patient Department and emergency services wards throughout the district if Kunbhar is not released.
Insisting that Masih was alive when he arrived at the hospital, the deceased’s family reportedly insisted that after Yusuf looked at him in the emergency room and then went outside.
At the same time, the municipal committee employees are accused of failing to provide him and the other Christian sanitary workers with the necessary safety kits and gear. Protesting workers alleged that Umerkot Municipal Committee officials had forced Irfan Masih and others to work in the manhole without safety gear.
Some 60 Christians are employed by the Umerkot Municipal Committee on daily wages.
“They always threaten us with consequences of losing our jobs if we don’t obey their directives,” Christian sanitation worker Ghafoor Masih told local media.
The municipal committee’s chairman and administrative officers were unavailable for comment.
Several sanitation workers have reportedly lost their lives due to toxic gases in manholes. Overall, hundreds of people have lost their lives working for the Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA), but their families do not receive benefits that other government employees get because the workers lack regular status despite working decades for the department.
Though Christians account for 90 percent of sewage workers and an even high percentage of sweepers, they make up only 2.45 percent of Pakistan’s population, which is more than 95 percent Muslim, according to Operation World.
Christian sanitation workers face extremely dangerous work conditions. When sewer lines clog because they are too small, these workers are not provided any protective gear as they sometimes dive 30 to 50 feet below ground into manholes filled with toxic water.
A large proportion of the Christian minority in Pakistan became sanitation workers for historical reasons. Sweeping in pre-Partition India was a job reserved for the lower castes. A large segment of lower Indian castes converted to Christianity after 1850, under British rule, to improve their lives.
The British continued these caste differences in the interests of convenience, economy and efficiency, and the colonial legacy inherited by the government of Pakistan has remained. After partition, even greater numbers of Christians were drawn to this profession; several landless Christian agricultural laborers who migrated to Pakistan took up the task of sweeping and sanitation in large cities in order to survive.
“Christian sanitation workers are discriminated against both by Muslims and by fellow Christians engaged in other professions,” said rights activist Shakeel Naz. “Since their work is considered unclean, people tend to look down upon them. It would not be wrong to say that the Christian sanitation workers are treated like animals in Pakistan.”
Naz, who also runs a school for poor Christian children in Lahore’s Makkah Colony, said that people refuse to shake hands with sanitation workers and do not eat from the same plate as them.
“Even some of our Christian brethren look down on these workers,” he said.
Many poor workers, by virtue of being Christian, feel they are left with no choice but to work as sweepers and sanitary workers.
“In many cases, sanitation work is inherited inter-generationally, and Christians associated with this occupation refuse to take up other jobs,” he said. “Since a large number of Christian sanitary workers have been killed while cleaning gutters and manholes, the least that the government can do is to provide them with protective gear and proper healthcare facilities.”
CLAAS, a religious freedom advocacy group updated Voice of the Persecuted on the case of Zafar Bhatti, a Christian in Pakistan who was falsely charged of blasphemy and now sentenced to life imprisonment by a Pakistani court on May 3, 2017.
Bhatti had been charged under blasphemy law section 295C and telegraph act section 25D in 2012 for sending blasphemous text messages from his mobile phone, which is according to reports was not registered to his name. He denies the charges.
Since 2012, he has been imprisoned in Adiala Central Jail Rawalpindi. Considering the threats to his life, the case was conducted in the jail on April 24 but the judgment was reserved for later dates. On May 3, the Additional session judge jailed him for life.
Usually courts hand down a death sentence to those who are charged under 295-C, but because there was no concrete evidence against Bhatti, he was sentenced to life imprisonment instead.
In 2012 Islamabad, the lawyers’ bar passed a resolution that no lawyer will represent Bhatti in the court, but CLAAS accepted his responsibility. They’re also helping to care for his family.
Due to threats against the accused and their lawyers, CLAAS tried to move the case to Lahore but the request was denied.
Nasir Saeed, director CLAAS-UK said it is very unfortunate that even though there was not enough evidence against Bhatti, instead of freeing him, the court has sentenced him to life imprisonment because of pressure from Islamists.
“The blasphemy law is continuously being misused in Pakistan to take revenge and settle personal scores. Christians are the most targeted group, and several Christians have been burnt alive, and even their towns and churches are often attacked and set to fire.”
“The lower court’s judges always hesitate to make decisions on the merit, or free people accused of blasphemy, and instead transfer their burden to the higher court without realizing how their decision will impact the accused and their families’ lives.”
CLAAS says they will appeal against the lower court’s decision to the Lahore high court. They believe Bhatti is innocent and will be freed by the higher court. Unfortunately, it will take several years for his case to be heard by the High Court.
Please pray for Bhatti and his family who are suffering needlessly.
Recently Pakistan’s National Assembly passed a resolution to prevent abuse through introducing safeguards. However, all such calls have faced strong opposition in the past. Those who’ve demanded changes in the blasphemy law were silenced and threatened with death. The governor of Punjab Salman Taseer and Minister for Minority Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti were savagely killed, as their acts were considered equal to blasphemy by hardliners.
Nevertheless, this latest resolution is clearly something to be welcomed and another reason to continue praying for the repeal of the laws so nobody has to suffer needlessly, CLAAS told Voice of the Persecuted.
Two top American Senators have introduced a resolution in the US Senate urging Pakistan to release a Pakistani-Christian woman who is serving a jail term for alleged violation of the country’s draconian blasphemy laws.
Senators Rand Paul and Chris Coons on Tuesday introduced a resolution urging Pakistan to release Aasiya Noreen, commonly referred to as Asia Bibi, a mother of five from Nankana area of Punjab province who was convicted of blasphemy in 2009 and has been on death row since 2010. However, after an international outcry, the Pakistani Supreme Court stayed her execution.
The senators also asked Pakistan to reform the laws that have led to the targeting of religious minorities. “My heart goes out to Asia Bibi as she continues to endure her unjust imprisonment in Pakistan,” said Paul. “It’s time for Pakistan to immediately release Asia Bibi and put a stop to the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities,” he added. Read More
VOP note: Please remember and keep Asia in your prayers.
(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.
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.
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.
(Agenzia Fides) The debate to amend the controversial “blasphemy law”, composed of the articles of the Penal Code that punish with life imprisonment or the death penalty insults against Islam has begun in the Pakistani Senate. It was Muslim Senator Farhatullah Baber, a member of the Pakistan People’s Party and representative of the Special Committee of the Pakistani Senate on human rights, to introduce the theme to look for ways to stop the abuse of the law.
The new attempt to discuss the matter in Parliament comes a decade after parliamentary Minocher Bhandara, a Zoroastrian, presented in 2007 a bill with amendments to the blasphemy law. The proposal was immediately blocked by the then Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Sher Afgan Niazi, for fear of offending the feelings of Muslims, appealing to the principle that “no law should contradict Islamic law”. (more…)
Lahore (Agenzia Fides) – Babu Shahbaz, a Christian from the village of Kamahan, near Lahore, was arrested by the police for alleged blasphemy. As Fides learns, on December 30 a formal complaint was filed to the police against Babu Shahbaz, under Article 295 b of the Penal Code of Pakistan. The complaint came after the Muslim, Haji Nadeem accused the Christian of having torn and thrown pages of the Koran in the street. Shahbaz is illiterate and cannot write.
Babu Shahbaz, 41, lives in the village of Kamahan, is married and has three children. An evangelical Christian who in the past 15 years has organized prayer meetings at his house, and many Christians and Muslims participate in the small home meetings, asking blessings and healing prayer. The local Muslims have shown impatience towards the growing popularity of Shahbaz and therefore have accused him of a false case of blasphemy.
After the complaint, the police stopped the Christian and his family, sending several officers to the village to monitor the situation and prevent possible mass reactions against Christians.
Shahbaz’ family have asked for assistance to the NGO Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) who spoke with the police and ascertained the situation, providing legal assistance to the family.
“The abuse of the blasphemy law continues to attack Christians and other religious minorities”, says CLAAS to Fides. “We hope the story is clarified as soon as possible, otherwise the fate of Shahbaz will be the same as Asia Bibi, Sawan Masih, Zaffar Bhatti and many others who, innocent, have been in prison for years. It is urgent to amend the blasphemy law to prevent abuses. If the government does not change this law, false cases of blasphemy against religious minorities will continue. The blasphemy law violates international human rights treaties ratified by the government of Pakistan”.
Thai immigration authorities raided and arrested 45 Pakistani Christian asylum seekers, including (approx. 22) children, who hold United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) asylum seeker cards. They will be brought to court tomorrow, likely put into the horrific conditions at the Immigration Detention Centre IDC. With only 15 days until Christmas, the entire community is devastated. (more…)