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Blasphemy Law Reform Drafted in Pakistan More Christians Accused

 

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Christians in Pakistan face extreme discrimination as 2nd and 3rd class citizens. The Blasphemy law is often unjustly used against them.

Muslims consist of an overwhelming 96 percent of the population in Pakistan. Pakistan’s blasphemy law is often misused by Muslims to attack Christians and other religious minorities to settle personal issues. Something must be done to stop this injustice.

LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – The Pakistani government has finished drafting a bill to combat abuse of blasphemy laws to which three Christians in the past month alone have fallen prey, sources said.

In Nankana Sahib District of Punjab Province, a Muslim accused a 94-year-old Christian landowner of blaspheming Islam in retaliation for the landowner’s attempt to resolve a disagreement over profit-sharing on a cornfield. Chaudhry Habil Qaiser of Martinpur village on May 27 filed an application with the predominantly Christian area’s inter-faith harmony committee asserting that Maulvi Muhammad Bashir, who used to till his land, was spreading false rumors that he had blasphemed Islam.

“Despite my repeated calls to Bashir, he refused to come to my house and discuss the issue,” Qaiser told Morning Star News. “On May 25, Malik Ghulam Amjad, a Muslim from a neighboring village, told me on the telephone that Bashir was propagating that I had mocked Islamic tenets in his presence. This propaganda was disseminated in several Muslim-inhabited villages.”

Qaiser has spent all his life in the same village and is widely respected throughout the district, and the allegations of blasphemy fell on deaf ears. But Bashir then filed an application with Abdul Hameed Rehmani, local head of a group called Tahafuz Khatam-e-Nabuvat, or Protectors of Prophet’s Finality, stepping up fears that the Christian village could face a mob attack.

Police had information about the matter and were waiting for either of the two parties to approach them for intervention, said the district police chief of Nankana.

“Our intelligence sources reported that no one in the villages had taken notice of Bashir’s claims, and there was no imminent threat of an attack on the Christians,” the chief, Kamran Yousaf, told Morning Star News.

He said police were closely monitoring the situation and were ready to intervene if necessary, but that it was better that the village council deal with the accuser.

On Sunday (June 14), a 30-member council comprising Christians and Muslims and headed by the Islamist leader, Rehmani, gathered at a local church in the village, where they asked Bashir to repeat his allegations and present witnesses and evidence against Qaiser. Bashir admitted that he had no case and apologized for trying to turn a monetary dispute into a religious issue.

Reform

Pakistan’s internationally condemned blasphemy statutes also are used to punish people whose psychological challenges cast doubt on whether they could intentionally blaspheme, and if so whether they legally could be held responsible.

In the Mehmoodabad area of Mirpur Khas in Sindh Province, Christians earlier this month abandoned their homes to escape possible Islamic attacks after a young Christian man who is said to be mentally challenged, Yaqoob Bashir, allegedly told local Muslims he had burned a copy of the Koran.

A mob gathered and threatened to set him on fire. Police took Bashir into custody, which saved his life, sources said.

Bashir’s neighbors said the accused frequently visited a Muslim cleric who told him that reciting koranic verses would help in treating his mental condition. Bashir on June 4 reportedly approached the cleric and sought a copy of the Koran. He then allegedly burned the Koran at his home and buried the ashes.

A case against Bashir was registered in the Mehmoodabad Police Station, where Bashir is said to have confessed and sought forgiveness. Pakistan’s blasphemy statutes require intent to be proven for conviction.

Another Christian said to be mentally unstable, Humayun Faisal, was accused of desecrating the Koran a couple of weeks earlier in Lahore. Faisal was immediately taken into custody, and a case was registered against him under Section 295-B for desecrating the Koran, but that did not stop Muslim mobs from rampaging in the Dhoop Sari area of Lahore where Faisal lives, source said.

Police and paramilitary troops averted major losses by baton-charging the crowds to bring calm.

In light of frequent abuses, the federal government has finished drafting of a bill to forestall abuse of the blasphemy statutes. Proposed by the Interior Ministry and vetted by the Law Ministry, the bill aims to keep anyone from taking the law into their own hands. According to a report by the Islamabad-based Centre for Research and Security Studies, 52 people accused of blasphemy have been murdered since 1990.

The bill also metes out harsh penalties for those who have levelled false accusations of blasphemy, according to officials.

A report in the Express Tribune cited a senior official at the Interior Ministry as saying that procedural loopholes in Pakistan Penal Code’s Section 295-C, blaspheming Muhammad, have been identified and some new clauses incorporated into the bill. Speaking ill of the prophet of Islam is punishable by death in Pakistan.

According to the official, the new law would make it necessary to prove not just intent but “bad intent,” or mens rea, for conviction. Mens rea is a legal phrase used to describe the mental state a person must be in while committing a crime for it to be considered intentional. It can refer to a general intent to break the law or a specific, premeditated plan to commit a particular offense.

European countries’ concern over the rising tide of abuse of the blasphemy law is said to be a primary reason for the new legislation.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan recently reported that abuse of the blasphemy law continues to take a heavy toll in terms of human lives and harassment of citizens. At least 14 people are on death row, and 19 others are serving life sentences, on blasphemy charges. Investigations have revealed that the reasons for the accusations often stem from personal enmity, property disputes and religious hatred.

Muslims Demand Church Vacate or Face Blasphemy Charge

CBN shared that a Christian congregation in southern Pakistan has received a deadly ultimatum from local Muslim criminals: give up their church’s land or face a false accusation of blasphemy.

The threats against Jerusalem Church, a Pentecostal body of believers located in Karachi, began in May by Muslims infamous for their violent reputation.

“This church was constructed in the late ’90s and carries the membership of over 300 Christian families; however, the (criminals) are after it and want to grab the whole property to use it for their agendas,” John Nazareth Adil, a local social activist, told the International Christian Concern.

For Christians in Pakistan, blasphemy accusations, true or not, can be lethal.

Just last fall, a Christian couple near Lahore was beaten and burned alive after allegedly burning papers containing verses from the Koran. And in March 2013, an entire neighborhood was razed to the ground after a local believer was accused of blasphemy.

Despite the danger, the church is standing its ground.

“The Christians of the locality have responded in a brave manner and announced that they will die before they let them grab the church property,” ICC quoted Jerusalem Church Pastor Ilyas Masih.

Meanwhile, the international community is being urged to stand in the gap for Pakistan’s persecuted Christian community.

“We are not safe in our house, nor in the church, neither on the roads,” one church member said. “A Christian’s life, worship places, and properties have no weight; therefore, the international community must take notice of these cases and put pressure on the authorities to ensure the dignity, rights, and protection of Christians in this country.”

Islamic Clerics Fight to Keep Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws That Persecute Christians: ‘Those Who Insult Muhammad Deserve to Be Killed’

Asia News reports that 10 Muslim scholars and a former Pakistani judge gathered recently at a “seminar for protection of the prophet’s dignity” and expressed their concern over the proposed legislation that is attempting to add the word “intention” to the nation’s blasphemy law.

Speaking at the seminar was former Pakistani justice Mian Nazir Akhtar, who represents Mumtaz Qadri, the bodyguard who killed Punjab Governor Salman Taseer for referring to Pakistan’s blasphemy law as a “black law.” Akhtar bashed the proposed legislation and asserted that those who insult the Muslim prophet Muhammad deserve to be killed and “sent to hell.”

“The new bill rejects all sayings by the ‘holy prophet,'” Akhtar stated. “When it comes to the sanctity of the prophet, the implementation of all man-made laws become different. Those who insult him have no rights, including no right to live. There is no need for trial or hearings.”

Christian Massacre Prevented After Muslim Leaders Stand Up to Islamic Imams Inciting Mass Attack

A massacre of Christians in Lahore, Pakistan, was prevented back in May partly due to three Muslim leaders standing up against other Islamic imams inciting a mass attack on Christians for alleged blasphemy. A total of 22 Muslims have so far been arrested in the incident.

Christian lawyers in the region are speaking out about the incident, which occurred on May 24. A Christian man was accused of burning pages of the Quran, considered blasphemy and has led to mob attacks on Christians in a number of cases.

CP reported that Dominican Fr. James Channan, director of the “Peace Center” in Lahore said the actions of Haji Pir Shafiq and two other Muslim leaders helped to prevent what most likely could have been a Christian massacre.

Channan revealed that “two other Muslim leaders distinguished themselves for their intervention in favor of Christians”.

“The imam of the mosque in Lahore, Abdul Khabir Azad, having learned of the unrest, went immediately on the spot and stayed there until three in the morning, parleying with local Muslim leaders to stop any form of violence. Even Alama Tahir Ashrafi, chairman of the Pakistan Ulema Council, arrived at the scene to mediate. The two condemned any retaliation on innocent Christians, helping to restore calm. They acted for justice, giving a good example.”

He also relayed that often in Pakistan, when a Christian is accused of blasphemy, the entire Islamic community rises up against him or her, without waiting for the authorities to get involved.

Pervez Rafique, a Human rights activist and former minority member of parliament representing the Pakistan People’s Party in Punjab, told The Christian Post in an interview back in May that Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws will be hard to change, because of the government’s “strong relations” with Muslim extremists.

Rafique told CP that those presently in power in Pakistan are known for having a “pro Taliban, pro Islamic ideology.”

He added that there is a big problem in civil society, where media and progressive-thinking people are afraid “to take bold stands against the blasphemy laws,” which he called a “naked sword on Christians and other communities.”Read more

Urgency to set up a “special investigation team” for cases of blasphemy

Fides reports there is need to form a “Joint Investigation Team JIT”; to release Asia Bibi and all other defendants in prison on charges of blasphemy: is what the “Pakistan Christian Congress” (PCC) asks for, indicating the need for the investigation team to be made up of civilian and military members, judges and officials, that assess the truthfulness of the allegations.
As reported in a note sent to Fides, Nazir Bhatti, Secretary of the CPC said: “Groups of Islamic extremists in Pakistan are using blasphemy laws as a weapon against religious minorities in Pakistan. They have damaged the image of Pakistan at an international level, as a country that violates religious freedom and human rights because the government has failed to stop the abuse of the blasphemy law”.

Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five children, was arrested on 19 June 2009 and sentenced to death on charges of blasphemy in November 2010. After the confirmation of the verdict by the Lahore High Court in 2014, she is currently awaiting the third degree trial, before the Supreme Court.

Recently the http://america.aljazeera.com website published a report on the case of Asia Bibi, making available on-line all the documentation related to the trial undergone by the woman at first instance and on appeal. The trial papers confirm that the process was marred by irregularities and it is apparent that the evidence of conviction of the defendant are dubious and contradictory.

Voice of the Persecuted

 

Latest In-depth Report: Mob loots, torches Christian colony in Lahore

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The News (International) in Pakistan reports after a Christian accused of committing blasphemy the mob comprising thousands of people attacked Joseph Colony on Noor Road in the Badami Bagh area. The infuriated protesters forced some 170 Christian families to flee the area. It was reported that the mob not only attacked the houses but also looted them.

Disturbing scenes of burning houses, streets strewn with debris and blackened furniture were seen as the mob attacked. An affected woman said people in large numbers came to her home, ransacked it, threw household items out of her house, doused them with gasoline and set fire to them. “They torched the houses of many such people who had nothing to do with the incident,” she added.

An eyewitness said the attackers went on the rampage, setting on fire many houses, damaging vehicles and hurling stones at the police. The police did not take any action against the people who were damaging property and setting fire to it, he added.

The police resorted to aerial firing for over an hour in the morning. Later, the protesters started gathering near Joseph Colony, where hundreds of poor Christian families live in small, dingy houses, and blocked the roads demanding immediate action against the accused. The police initially tried to persuade them to clear the way for traffic, but the protesters turned violent and started hurling stones at them. Several policemen were injured in the heavy pelting. The police lobbed tear-gas shells and resorted to a baton-charge to disperse the mob. The protesters then retreated but only to regroup, targeting the houses of Christians. Some of the residents had already fled the area anticipating a backlash.

The fire-fighters had to make hectic efforts for many hours to put out the fire. Many rescuers also received injuries while performing their duty.  The backdrop of the blasphemy case is very dubious as both the accused Sawan Masih and the complainant Shahid Imran had been friends, that hung out together. They had their businesses in the same market and according to other shopkeepers, they were engaged in some kind of a dispute for some time. A local requesting anonymity said, both used to drink liquor together regularly and on the night of the incident both went out drinking.

Another aspect of the issue is that the union elections of the iron workshops were just round the corner and Sawan and Shahid belong to opposing groups. Some locals also alleged that the violent storming and burning of the Christian homes was done by the union groups aspiring to gain support of the people by proving themselves as the greater flag-bearers of Islam.

Sawan Masih in his statement, said similar things including the fact that the complainant Shahid Imran threatened him during an argument saying that he could destroy his life by accusing him of blasphemy, while both were drunk.

Taking notice of the incident, President Asif Ali Zardari has called for a report. Presidential spokesperson Farhatullah Babar said that the president, while expressing grave concern over the incident of vandalism, directed authorities to ensure the safety and security of lives and property of the citizens.

The president said that safeguarding the rights of all citizens — Muslims and non-Muslims alike — was one of the main responsibilities of the government and it would continue undertaking every effort for the protection of their rights as enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan. He said that such acts of vandalism against minorities tarnish the image of the country.

The president directed the authorities that no one should be allowed to take the law into his own hands and that law and order must be ensured, the spokesperson added.

Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf also took notice of the incident. He directed an expeditious inquiry into the incident and was taking measures to stop the recurrence of such incidents in future.

 “The Christians are equal citizens of the land and must be given complete protection. Islam teaches tolerance and assures protection to life and property of non-Muslims,” the PM added.

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, while addressing a news conference, announced that each affected family would be given Rs200,000 in cash and the burnt houses would be reconstructed by the government. The CM ordered the compensation process to start immediately. He also suspended the DSP and SHO of Badami Bagh and made the SSP Operations Suhail Sukhera and SP City Multan Khan OSDs.

He said all involved in the incident including those who provoked the people and instigated them to attack the houses wouldn’t be spared.

He also requested the Lahore High Court Chief Justice to form a judicial commission to investigate the incident. He said cases would be registered against the attackers under Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) and the culprits would be awarded exemplary punishment. He said the person accused of blasphemy had been arrested on Friday night and an FIR had also been registered but despite that, the barbarism demonstrated on Saturday had no justification. He said the court would decide the case of blasphemy accused on merit, after a fair trial. He also made an appeal to the Ulema (Muslim legal scholars) to come forward and play their role for creating awareness about the minorities’ rights and importance of tolerance in the Islamic society.

Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said an investigation had been carried out into the allegations and a case registered against the accused. Badami Bagh police registered a case against Sawan Masih under Section 295C on the complaint of Shahid Imran. Meanwhile, police rounded up dozens of people on charges of arson and rioting.

MNA Pervaiz Malik visited the locality and told the area people mischievous elements were involved in the incident. He said the Punjab police demonstrated exceptional performance and about 18 policemen and one officer were also injured. Pervaiz Malik asked the people to remain peaceful.

Meanwhile, a judicial magistrate on Saturday sent to jail Sawan Masih on 14-day judicial remand. Police produced the accused before the court and sought his physical remand. However, the court sent him on judicial remand, directing the police to produce the accused again on March 23 along with investigation report.

The arson attack on the Christian colony was widely condemned. The World Minorities Alliance Convener, J Salik expressed his deep grief over the burning of the Christian homes in Joseph Colony.

Jamaat-e-Islami Secretary General Liaquat Baloch said attacking innocent Christians was totally unjustified, un-Islamic and needed investigation. Jamaatud Dawah Ameer Hafiz Saeed and Tehrik-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool convener Maulana Ameer Hamza termed the setting ablaze of Christian houses tragic and un-Islamic.

Jamiat-e-Ahle Hadith chief Prof Sajid Mir also condemned the incident and said blasphemy of the Holy Prophet (PBHU) was the worst crime and its punishment was death but only the state had the power to sentence the blasphemer.

Pakistan Awami Tehreek chief Dr Tahirul Qadri, in his statement, said the incident was a conspiracy against Pakistan. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) expressed deep grief and anger at the unchecked attack on over 100 homes belonging to the Christian community in Badami Bagh, Lahore area.

National Secretary of National Commission for Justice and Peace, Peter Jacob said there was no denying the fact that fuel for such hate actions was omnipresent in the Pakistani society and whenever there is a spark it all goes up in flames.

Father Emmanuel Yousaf Mani also condemned the incident. Concerned Citizens of Pakistan Chairperson, Justice Nasira Javed Iqbal said it is inhuman to destroy lives and property of hundreds of families over an alleged fault of a single individual.

Chief of the Masiha Millat Party and General Secretary of the Human Liberation Commission of Pakistan Aslam Sahotra staged a large protest and sit-in outside the Lahore Press Club.

Mian Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo, Sarfaraz Latif Khosa, Akram Masih Gill, Engineer Shehzad Elahi, Aurangzeb Burki, Syed Asif Hashmi Awami Workers Party leaders Sheikh Mansoor, Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Altaf Hussain, Dr Paul Bhatti and others also condemned the incident.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws were first instituted to keep peace between religions. But they have been criticized by human rights advocates who say the laws enable legal discrimination against religious minorities. Through time, the laws have been misused to settle personal differences between Muslims and Christians.

“The attack is yet another shameful incident against a vulnerable community and further confirmation of the slide toward extremism in society on the one hand and, on the other hand, the apathy and inaction that has become the norm among the police,” the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said in a statement.

The group accused police of arresting Christians in the incident “while those who went on a rampage and can easily be identified from television footage have gone scot-free.”

ISLAMABAD: National Assembly Standing Committee (NASC) for human rights has summoned Punjab IG over the Joseph Town tragedy, Geo News reported Sunday.

NASC for human rights chairman Riaz Fatiana, strongly condemning the torching of houses of the Christian community, has summoned Punjab IG on March 14 in Islamabad.

Construction of ruined Joseph Town houses to start today

Punjab Law Minister, Rana Sanaullah also trying to reach the affected area faced strong protests from the enraged victims of Joseph Town. Joseph Town victims said that the police, who was supposed to protect them, were in fact very much involved in getting their houses set at fire and displace them. Later talking to media, Rana Sanaullah said that the Christian community would be given better houses than they lived in after construction.

Source

 

INITIAL REPORT WITH PHOTOS HERE

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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