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Verdict expected in blasphemy case against Jakarta’s Christian governor

Ahead of Ahok’s trial on Tueday (happening now), police began enforcing maximum security efforts on Monday

JAKARTA (Reuters)

– An Indonesian court is expected to decide on Tuesday whether Jakarta’s Christian governor is guilty of blasphemy against Islam, in a trial that is widely seen as a test of religious tolerance in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation.

The government has been criticized for not doing enough to protect religious minorities but President Joko Widodo, a key ally of Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok), has urged restraint over the trial and called for all sides to respect the legal process.

Officials said thousands of police will be deployed in the capital in case clashes break out between Purnama’s supporters and hardline Islamists who have demanded he be sacked and jailed over allegations he insulted the Islamic holy book, the Koran.

“Both groups will have the opportunity to demonstrate, but we are taking steps to prevent clashes,” said national police spokesman Setyo Wasisto.

Purnama lost his bid for re-election in an April run-off – by far the most divisive and religiously charged election in recent years – to a Muslim rival, Anies Baswedan. read more

Please pray for this man and Christians in Indonesia.

Supporters sent 10,000 balloons for Ahok ahead of the verdict announcement

Pakistan: Christian boy, 16, arrested for Kaaba ‘blasphemy’

Nabeel Masih, 16, is alleged to have "defamed" the Kaaba in Mecca, the building at the centre of Islam's most sacred mosque. Amalia Sari / Flickr / CC

Nabeel Masih, 16, is alleged to have “defamed” the Kaaba in Mecca, the building at the centre of Islam’s most sacred mosque.
Amalia Sari / Flickr / CC

(World Watch Monitor) A 16-year-old Christian boy has been accused of committing blasphemy by “liking” and sharing a post on Facebook which “defamed and disrespected” the Kaaba in Mecca, the building at the centre of Islam’s most sacred mosque.

Most of the Christians in the boy’s village have since fled their homes for fear of an angry backlash against them.

At around 3pm on Sunday (18 Sep.), several police vans raided Nabeel Masih’s house in Dina Nath village – in the Kasur district of Punjab province, 30 miles southwest of Lahore. There are at least 300 Christian homes in the village.

The complainant, Akhtar Ali, filed this accusation at the nearby Phoolnagar Police Station: “On 18 September, I was with my friends Bakht Khan and Saddam … We took our friend Waqar’s mobile phone and started seeing pictures of his various friends on Facebook. But when we opened Nabeel Masih’s profile, there was a picture posted in which the Kaaba is defamed and disrespected. Seeing that picture, our religious feelings were hurt.”

“It was only a mistake and he clearly stated that he did not intend to hurt [anyone] but to condemn the post.”–Imran Masih

Nabeel’s cousin, Imran, 24, told World Watch Monitor that Nabeel had nothing against Muslims and meant no harm.

“It was only a mistake by him and he clearly stated that he did not intend to hurt but to condemn the post,” Imran said. He added that Nabeel is illiterate and works as a labourer in a nearby ghee factory.

Pastor Samuel Masih, who was visiting his sisters in the village, said that, although everything seemed calm, “many of the Christians have left the area due to fear of security”.

Phoolnagar Police Station head, Shahbaz Ahmed Dogar, reiterated that everything was under control and urged Christians to return.

“There was no announcement from mosque loudspeakers or any gathering of people,” he said. “Those who have left the area have taken only precautionary measures and I would encourage them to return to their houses.”

In several instances in the past, Christian neighbourhoods in Pakistan have been targeted following blasphemy allegations, resulting in the looting, ransacking and burning of Christian homes. In 2009, more than 100 Christian homes were ransacked and set on fire in Gojra, near Faisalabad, while in March 2013 another 150 Christian homes were set on fire in Lahore’s Joseph Colony.

VOP Note: We remember the Joseph colony very well as we were in contact with Pakistani Christians at the time of the attack on their community. The aftermath was heartbreaking. It’s quite disturbing how entire villages are ransacked, burned as the innocent are beaten by violent mobs. There are even times when the accused is arrested and jailed, yet the attacks continue. Imagine living with a fear that you will be beaten or ‘taught a lesson’ for something you are not of part of and because you are associated simply by faith. These are fear tactics to keep the Christian community suppressed and inferior (second-class citizens) in a country predominantly Muslim and increasingly radical.

Christians attacked after Friday prayers

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Shahzad Masih, 25, his brother Zahid, 23, and his mother Parveen, were hospitalised after the attack.World Watch Monitor

Meanwhile, a poor Christian neighbourhood in a remote village 20 miles south of Faisalabad came under attack after Muslim Friday prayers on 16 September.

Five people were hospitalised, including two women who also faced public humiliation after their clothes were torn, but police said the injuries were not sufficient for the formal registration of a case.

At least 20 men armed with sticks and firearms attacked the Christian neighbourhood – in the village of Chajwal, in the Samundri district. The incident took place only the day after the Punjab Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Affairs, Khalil Tahir Sandhu, told local media that “minorities in Pakistan are more secured (sic) than [in] other countries of the region”.

Villager Razaq Masih, 55, lodged a formal complaint at the Samundri Saddar Police Station, in which he named six alleged attackers. He said that, at around 4pm on Friday, those six, alongside 30-35 others, came to the village, “yelling that today they would teach a lesson to these ‘chuhras’* … [and] attacked the Christians”.

Masih added that the assailants had stormed into the house of a Christian woman, Sharifan Bibi, “torn [her] clothes” and “while beating her, dragged her … out of the house”.

“My sons are labourers and they had just returned from their work. I tried to save my sons, after which they beat me with clubs and attacked us with bricks.”–Parveen Bibi

Parveen Bibi said she was also beaten as she tried to protect her two sons – Shahbaz, 25, and Zahid, 23.

“My sons are labourers and they had just returned from their work,” she told World Watch Monitor from her hospital bed. “I [pleaded with the attackers] and tried to save my sons, after which they beat me with clubs and attacked us with bricks.”

Arif Masih, 55, who also works as a labourer, was returning home from a wedding when he was beaten.

“I could not even understand why they were beating me,” Masih told World Watch Monitor at the hospital.

Hundreds of Christians from the village gathered together on Sunday evening (18 Sep.) and resolved to seek justice. They told World Watch Monitor the attackers must have had support from local politicians, which is why the police had refused to officially register the case, and said they were fearful of further attacks.

“About 300 to 400 Christian households are in Chajwal, whom the influential community of Gujjars [an agricultural caste] have been trying to suppress for a while,” said Shahid Masih Paul, chairman of Christ Assemblies International, a Pentecostal group. “The Gujjars are influential in the area. Decades ago, these Christians were dependent … on [these] landlords, but over time their number has decreased and most of them work as labourers in the city.”

What sparked the attack?

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Christians gathered on Sunday evening (18 Sep.) and resolved to seek justice. They said they suspected the attackers had support from local politicians and that they were fearful of further attacks.World Watch Monitor

Razaq Masih told World Watch Monitor that he had been sitting with a Muslim man in front of some Christian homes, when some Gujjars, as well as people from the Julaha (weavers) caste, arrived and wanted to beat up the man.

“They had a grudge against him because of a relationship he had a year ago with a young woman, who was also Muslim,” Masih explained. “The Christians intervened and said that if the relationship had ended, then why should he be beaten? Within no time, about 30 men arrived, yelling that we will teach these ‘chuhras’ a lesson for raising their heads [to defend the Muslim].”

Chairman Paul said that the Gujjar and Julaha communities had long wanted to direct their sewerage water into the cesspit beside the Christian community, but that “Christians have been refusing because they think that the pond would then overflow and their houses would be inundated. That is the core issue. It is not bearable for the Gujjar and Julaha that these poor Christians, who have long been their tenants, have started to resist them.”

Razaq Masih said all the Christians live on government land. “They have not been able to buy the land, but for decades they have been living there. If the [Gujjars] are allowed to channel their sewerage water there and it inundates the Christians’ houses, they would then have to leave the village.”

Rao Kashif, provincial parliamentarian for Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, told World Watch Monitor that he could not confirm whether or not the Christians were beaten up.

arif_masih_hospitalized

Arif Masih: ‘I could not even understand why they were beating me.’World Watch Monitor

“I regularly come to my office but how can I know if none of them has come to me?” he said.

The Christians complained that since the incident no parliamentarian has yet raised their case. In the past, many incidents of violence against Christians have taken place, which have been seen as a precursor for later evicting them from the government land they live on.

Christians continue to be regarded as lower-class citizens and are often forced to live in the less desirable parts of an area, such as close to sewerage-filled ponds. This attitude towards them is reinforced from schooldays onwards.

A recent report by Pakistan’s National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) says the government has failed to keep its promise to eradicate religious “hate material”, including against minority Christians, from textbooks used in schools.

After the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in Dec. 2014, the government introduced a 20-point National Action Plan to discourage religious extremism and to provide a counter-narrative to promote religious harmony, saying an “end to religious extremism and [the] protection of minorities will be ensured”. However, the NCJP report, “Freedom from Suffocating Education”, claims that no curriculum reforms have so far been adopted at the school level, aside from the production of a few booklets.

This backs up the findings of another recent report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which concluded: “The trend toward a more biased curriculum towards religious minorities is accelerating. These grossly generalized and stereotypical portrayals of religious minority communities signal that they are untrustworthy, religiously inferior, and ideologically scheming and intolerant.”

The NCJP report, which focused on textbooks used in the 2015-16 school year, noted that “hate material” previously identified had not been removed from the curriculum yet.


* “Difficult to translate, the word connotes dark skin, low social status and un-touchability” (Pakistan Herald, Sep. 2016) – the term “chuhra” (“dirty”/”filthy”) is considered by some Pakistanis as almost synonymous with “Christian”. It’s linked with “bhangi” and “jamadar” (sweepers or sanitary workers), the lowest-caste occupations still overwhelmingly populated by Christians.

Please pray for Pakistan.

PAKISTAN: Blasphemy accusation enrages Muslim mob to destroy Christian homes and burn Church

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Enraged Muslim mob attacks Pakistani Christian village (2013)

(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.

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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.

Together with your generous support, we can reach the goal to alleviate horrific suffering. In darkness and desperation, let us serve in love, with open arms and giving hands to provide light and hope.

HELP SAVE THE PERSECUTED

Everyday, we thank God that He is working through you to care for His children and further His Kingdom! As you have greatly blessed others, may God continue to bless you. Thank you so much for your support. We couldn’t do it without you!

You may also send your gift to:

Voice of the Persecuted
2740 Third St
P.O. Box 122
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Violent Muslim Mob Destroys Pakistani Christian Community

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(March 9, 2013) LAHORE, Pakistan —After hearing accusations that a Christian man committed blasphemy against Islam’s prophet, over 3,000 Muslim protesters turned violent and destroyed a Christian neighborhood on Saturday by torching homes. Reports claim over 100 homes have been burned or vandalized.

 

A large crowd from a nearby mosque went to the Christian’s home on Friday night, after a young Muslim man accused a Christian of committing blasphemy by making offensive comments about the prophet. Police took the Christian man into custody to try to calm down the crowd. Fearing for their safety, hundreds of Christian families fled the area overnight.

pk-burnReports say the mob returned on Saturday and began setting the homes of Christians ablaze. Though no one in the Christian community was hurt, several policemen were injured when hit by stones as they tried to keep the crowd from rushing the area.

(AP) reports Akram Gill, a local bishop in the Lahore Christian community said the incident had more to do with personal enmity between two men than blasphemy. He said the men got into a brawl after drinking late one night, and in the morning the Muslim man made up the blasphemy story as payback.

pk-burn1When they came to the neighborhood to investigate, the Christian community handed the accused man over to police. He is identified by police as Sawan Masih.  Afterwards the Christians all locked up their houses and went to relatives in other areas.

burning Bible

On  Saturday morning, the mob was armed with hammers and steel rods and broke into houses, ransacked two churches and burned Bibles and crosses. Refrigerators, washing and sewing machines, cooking pots, beds and other household goods were ripped from homes, smashed and torched in the streets.

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“Poor people were living here. They have lost all of their belongings. “Where can they go now?” said Akram Gill

A couple from the neighborhood went to their Muslim neighbors’ house on Friday night after people came looking for the Christian man accused of blasphemy. Ishaq Masih said the Muslim neighbors sheltered the couple for the night and then gave them money to leave the area in the morning.

Accusations of blasphemy in Pakistan have prompted huge crowds to take the law into their own hands. Once an accusation is made it’s extremely difficult to get it reversed, partly because law enforcement officials do not want to be seen as being soft on blasphemers.

Joseph Colony attack 2013

Speaking out against the blasphemy laws can put people in danger. Two prominent politicians (Shahbaz Bhatti and Salman Taseer) were assassinated in 2011 for urging reform of the law. The killer of one of the politicians was hailed as a hero, and lawyers at his legal appearances showered him with rose petals.

Last year there was a rare reversal of a blasphemy case. A teenage Christian girl, Rimsha Masih with suspected mental disabilities was accused of burning pages of the Quran. She was later released after a huge domestic and international outcry about her treatment. In a rare example of the accuser facing legal consequences, a local cleric was arrested and accused of planting the pages in her bag to incriminate her. He had hoped to rid the community of Christians. He has since been freed on bail. Though exonerated of all charges, unfortunately Rimsha and her family now live in hiding for fear of further attacks from death threats.

While Muslims are frequently accused of blasphemy, members of Pakistan’s small Christian community are especially vulnerable to the accusations, said the head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Zora Yusuf. Only in Christian cases will violent mobs punish the entire community for the ‘perceived’ crime of one Christian. She also said that often these blasphemy cases are personal grudges or disputes masquerading as religious fervor. “Most of the time there are other motives involved,” she said, such as scaring off Christian residents to grab their property.

Please remember Pakistani Christians and keep them in your prayers. Please also pray for those doing the persecuting!

updated March 10,2013

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