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Blasphemy: Christian death sentence appeal hearing on Nov. 27

Sawan Masih sentenced to death for blasphemy

PAKISTAN: Prayers are needed for Sawan Masih who has been on death row for blasphemy since 2014. Masih was accused by his Muslim friend, Shahid Imran, of making derogatory remarks against the Prophet Muhammad in 2013. A case was registered against him under section 295-C of the Blasphemy Law which has a mandatory death penalty. Masih says the charge is false.

His case became internationally known when a large Muslim mob violently attacked Masih’s residential area, Joseph Colony, in Badami Bagh Lahore. The local mosque broadcasted the accusation via loudspeakers and a mob of more than 3,000 Muslims attacked Sawan’s home, looted and torched 180 Christian homes, 75 shops and at least two churches. Witnesses say the police stood and watched instead of stopping the attackers and protecting local Christians and their property.

Hundreds of families were displaced as the mob threatened to burn Christians alive in their homes unless they left. Sawan Masih was handed over to the police and has remained in custody ever since. See our March 2013 report and photos of the violent mob attack

Mob burns and destroys Christian neighborhood for blasphemy charge claimed to be false.

On March 27, 2014 the Lower Court sentenced Masih to death for committing blasphemy.  Soon after this verdict CLAAS filed an appeal against the conviction in the Lahore High Court, which is scheduled to be heard on Tuesday, November 27, 2018.

Sawan Masih’s wife and three children are very concerned and living in fear. CLAAS is providing free legal aid to Sawan Masih. Prayers have been requested and considered crucial for his safety and release.

Nasir Saeed, director of CLAAS-UK said, “This is a very unfortunate situation as although Asia Bibi was acquitted on October 31 by the Pakistan Supreme Court, she is not allowed to leave Pakistan despite several western countries being willing to accept her and her family.”

He added, “This is because the leader of the Islamist party Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan has threatened the government, saying if she leaves the country, there will be war. Unfortunately for the last several decades, Islamist groups in Pakistan have become more powerful than the state. Now the situation is that everyone, whether it is the prime minister or the chief justice of Pakistan, they have to proclaim publicly that they equally love the prophet and would sacrifice their life for the prophet.

A review petition and separately a petition to add her name in the exit control list (ECL) has been filed in the supreme court and keeping in view the present situation I don’t think the review petition will be heard very soon.”

Mr Saeed also said, “Pakistan’s President Dr Arif Alvi’s statement that the government will not amend the blasphemy law is not very encouraging as we all know the blasphemy law is often used by Muslims to settle personal grudges and scores against their rivals, and Christians are the main target.  He said the blasphemy law needs change to stop its continuous misuse and the international community needs to remind Pakistan of this regularly.”

HEARING UPDATE HERE

Pakistan Christian still on death row, five years after his ‘blasphemy’ sparked Joseph Colony attack

At the fifth anniversary of the arson attack on a Christian neighborhood in the Pakistani city of Lahore, the mother of the Christian man convicted of blaspheming against Islam – and so provoking the attack – says she still prays for his release.

Sawan Masih*, a 30-year-old sanitation worker, was accused by a Muslim friend of making blasphemous remarks against the prophet Muhammad on 9 March 2013, for which he was sentenced to death in 2014. His appeal is still pending reports World Watch Monitor.

Following the initial accusation against him, an over 3,000-strong mob descended on Joseph Colony, setting fire to over 150 houses, including the Masih family’s home.

An anti-terrorism court last year acquitted every one of the more than 100 suspects accused of involvement in the attack, but Masih, a father of three, is still being held in the Central Jail in Faisalabad, 140km west of Lahore, awaiting the outcome of his appeal at the Lahore High Court.

His wife and children have moved in with her family. His mother, Billo Bibi, 50, says the authorities are considering moving her son to a jail in Sahiwal, a city even farther away from them. “Travelling to another city was already tough. Now they are sending him farther away,” she told the Catholic news agency UCAN.

“I used to call him Buri. We still pray for his release. My elderly husband has developed breathing complications since his arrest. He does not speak anymore,” she added.

Protest of the Christian persecution experienced by the Joseph Colony where an entire village was set on fire by a large Muslim mob. -Photo by Sunny Gill (used with permission)

Protests against blasphemy law

On 9 March an annual candlelit vigil in commemoration of the Joseph Colony attack was held, while on the same day protestors gathered in front of the Punjab Assembly in Lahore to protest against misuse of the country’s blasphemy laws.

In an effort to stop the abuse, Pakistan’s Senate Special Committee on Human Rights recommended last week that those who falsely accuse someone of blasphemy should receive the same punishment as those convicted of blasphemy.

There is, however, strong opposition from right-wing political groups against any changes being made to the law.

Critics of the law say it has often been misused to settle personal scores, while procedural “loopholes” have also led to the filing of false charges, as happened in the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman on death row for blasphemy since 2010.

In the case of the attack on Joseph Colony, Pakistan’s Supreme Court has suggested the land on which the colony was set up could be the prime reason it was targeted, because it belonged to the government and is surrounded by huge factory complexes. Weeks before the incident residents had been threatened by a “group from the land mafia in the city’s Misri Shah [scrap] market”, according to the President of Pakistan Minority Front’s Lahore Chapter. “The issue was to move these people so that the scrap market could be extended,” he said shortly after the attack.

*The name ‘Masih’, which derives from ‘Messiah’, has been used for whole Christian communities for many years in Pakistan. Bibi, meanwhile, is a respectful term for a married or older woman in Pakistan and other parts of South Asia. 

These two little ones needed immediate medical attention for a horrible skin rash. They’ve recovered! VOP also helped to cover their nutritional needs for the month.

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Christian, 70, Charged with Blasphemy in Pakistan as 106 Muslims Are Acquitted

 

 

 

 

 

Muslim mob burn down and destroy entire Christian neighborhood for blasphemy charge claimed to be false.

Muslim mob burn down and destroy entire Christian neighborhood for blasphemy charge claimed to be false.

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.

Anniversary of Islamic Mob Attack of Joseph Colony in Pakistan – Pray for Pakistan

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(Voice of the Persecuted) On March 9, 2013 the Christian neighborhood , Joseph Colony in Lahore, Pakistan was overcome by a large Muslim mob. The colony was attacked and vandalized after a local Christian man had been erroneously accused of blasphemy. The infuriated mob 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. Read our March 2013 report covering the horrific attack.

After the attack, Pakistanis and villagers lamented,

“They burnt down our houses, they burnt our Bibles. You should have seen the way we had to run. Women and children, running, some children weren’t even wearing shoes.”

Another resident said in tears while she described the fire burning down of the community,  “I saw it with my own eyes. They [the mob] were laughing as they destroyed everything.”

One of the affected 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 people who had nothing to do with the incident,”

“This is Pakistan, but not the Pakistan which Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah dreamed of.”

Over the years, there have been numerous abuse over blasphemy allegations. In 2009, a Christian neighborhood in the city of Gojra, in central Punjab province, was targeted. Nine people lost their lives and many homes were destroyed.

In 2011, the former Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, was assassinated by his own security guard, Mumtaz Qadri, who was against Taseer’s public support of Aasiya Noreen, widely known as Asia Bibi, a Christian woman condemned for allegedly committing blasphemy. The law is often misused against Christians and other religious minorities. Taseer criticized and wanted Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws amended and fiercely advocated for Asia’s release.  Asia, a mother of 5 still sits in jail praying her death sentence will be overturned.

Also in 2011, Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated in Islamabad. Taliban gunmen, opened fire on Bhatti’s car and killed him on the spot. Bhatti was targeted by extremists for speaking out against the country’s ruthless blasphemy laws.

Rimsha Masih, a teenage Christian girl was charged with blasphemy for allegedly burning pages from the Quran. However, the case was dismissed after investigations revealed that Masih was framed by a cleric, Khalid Jadoon Chishti. Rimsha and her family were evacuted out of Pakistan for ongoing death threats.

New reports claim a Pakistani lawyers’ group behind the rise in blasphemy cases. Rueters shared,

The group, whose name translates as The Movement for the Finality of the Prophethood, offers free legal advice to complainants and has packed courtrooms with representatives, a tactic critics say is designed to help it gain convictions.

The stated mission of the Khatm-e-Nubuwwat Lawyers’ Forum and its leader Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry is uncompromising: to use its expertise and influence to ensure that anyone insulting Islam or the Prophet Mohammad is charged, tried and executed.

“Whoever does this (blasphemy), the punishment is only death. There is no alternative,” Chaudhry told supporters crammed into his small office behind the towering red-brick High Court building in the eastern city of Lahore. Read more

Protests erupted after Mumtaz Qadri who is held by many as a hero, was executed on Monday. Mobs clashed with police, attacked a media office in Karachi and a press club in Hyderabad after Friday prayers against the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri for Taseer’s murder. Security has been tightened around Asia Bibi as new threats have been made to kill her.

Until it is abolished, innocent minorites will continue to face false charges or death sentences as victims of Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy law.

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Muslim attackers vandalize Church and Christian colony Shad Bagh in Lahore city

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Lahore: July 30, 2013, Muslim mob equipped with lethal arms attacked the Christian Colony Shad Bagh in a metropolitan area of Lahore on July 28, 2013. The mob vandalizing a Catholic Church and homes of Christians injuring one Christian with bullet wound in broad day light, reports CLAAS, a non-governmental organization.

According to the CLAAS report issued here today,

“On Sunday July 28, 2013 at about 4:00 pm, a local resident Martian Javed Michel (Social Activists) informed CLAAS about the overwrought situation of Christians and Muslims in Shad Bagh Amir Road near Joseph Colony Lahore. It was also informed that an infuriated mob of Muslims attacked on the houses of the local Christians and one Catholic Church with deadly weapons. CLAAS team including Mr. Sohail Habel (Finance Manager) Mr. Asher Sarfraz (Field Officer) and Saleem Gabriel, Samuel Paraya rushed to the occurrence place to help the Christians and find out the real facts”

The Christian residents told CLAAS team that a Muslim Television Cable Operator named Faisal Butt who has a criminal background and has a worse attitude towards Christians. He used to take some extra fee charges of TV cable connection from Christians. About a month ago Faisal Butt and his companions had a dispute with a Christian woman/widow and beat up the woman and her children on the demand of extra fee of cable. Faisal Butt was using the place of Babu Younis (a Christian) for railing the boasters of cable connection in this area for last many years and he has about 3 helpers in his work.

On July 28, 2013 at 2:00 pm one of his helpers named Asad was collecting the cable fee in the Christian Colony Shad Bagh. He also came to Babu Younis house and asked for the fee. He informed Asad that they are using his house to fix the Cable Boaster to supply the connection. Asad forced to Babu Younis to pay the money as a cable fee, then Babu said that it should be a free cable connection for him, otherwise they will remove this boaster from his house. Asad became furious and started to beat him. Neighbor Christians gathered there to help and saved Babu and they thought the matter was resolved.

An hour later, Faisal Butt returned with a group of about 30-35 persons armed with deadly weapons. They began to open fire in the air and also started throwing stones and bricks at the Christians houses. They also attacked the Catholic Church and broke the glass of the church windows. They were calling the names of Christians loudly and using a derogatory language for them.

Riaz Masih s/o Babu Younis received a gunshot wound to his leg and was severely injured. Vejay Masih s/o Niamat Masih who was already a cancer patient, was injured by butt of pistol to his forehead. There were few others who were also injured.

They fired on the Christian houses for one hour. They left the place with severe threats to burn the Christians houses the same as in the attack on Joseph Colony in March, if they tried to take legal action against them.

Local residents shared with the CLAAS team that Chaudhry Shahbaz MPA (Member of Provincial Assembly) Muslim League -N ruling party in Pakistan is supporting Faisal Butt in his criminal activities. The team went with Babu Younis to the police station in Shad Bagh Lahore to lodge a legal case FIR (First Information Report) against Faisal Butt and his companions for this violent attack. On the same day, police arrested the main accused, Faisal Butt while others were absconded.

Please pray for the injured Christians! Pray the Lord our God will cure the wounds of the innocent victims of this violent attack. The above said information is based on the preliminary facts of the incident and the CLAAS will share its full and detailed report soon.

Source

Christians watchful as Sharif returns to power in Pakistan

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PAKISTAN: (CT) Pakistan’s Christians appear to have thrown some of their political support to Nawaz Sharif in the May 11 national election, even as they have reason to be wary of his return to power.

Sharif’s party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, or PMLN, won 124 of the 272 directly elected seats in the lower house of Parliament. In Punjab province, home to more than half of Pakistan’s population and 80 per cent of its Christians, the PMLN won a two-thirds majority in the provincial government.

It is a remarkable comeback for Sharif, who was ousted by a military coup in 1999 and spent seven years’ exile in Saudi Arabia and Great Britain. On June 5, he took office as prime minister, Pakistan’s top executive position, for a third time.

Though Pakistani Christians historically have supported more liberal parties, there is evidence significant numbers backed the PMLN this time. Shahbaz Sharif, younger brother of Nawaz and chief minister of Punjab for the past five years, got the majority of votes from the predominately Christian neighbourhood of Yohannaabad of Lahore, the Punjab capital. Christians are the largest minority in Punjab.

Unlike PMLN campaigns of the 1990s that carried Islamic overtones, the 2013 campaign was dominated by Pakistan’s chronic electricity shortages, relations with India and the United States, and domestic Taliban-sponsored terrorism.

http://profile.ak.fbcdn.net/hprofile-ak-snc6/261122_410346409016530_829384845_n.jpgAt points during the campaign, Sharif promised his party would give equal rights to minorities, including Christians.

“The situation of Christians may be different this time because (the) Sharif brothers have promised to bring positive changes for minorities,” said Irfan Barkat, a Christian activist who once worked with the National Commission of Justice and Peace.

Barkat said Christian voters may have been further encouraged by the Punjab government’s eventual response to a March riot in the Joseph Colony sector of Lahore. Thousands of Muslims, enraged by the allegations that a Christian man had insulted the Prophet Mohammed, torched about 150 Christian homes, forcing hundreds of families to flee, and beating some of those who remained. The Pakistan Supreme Court accused Lahore police of standing by during the violence and demanded an investigation. It found the Punjab government’s initial response lacking, but the government eventually did offer to help victims rebuild their homes.

“The way they rehabilitated Christian families of Joseph Colony, which was attacked by Muslim protesters in March this year, have changed Christians’ view about Mr. Sharif’s party,” Barkat said.

The PMLN even took the unusual step of thanking minority voters for their support.

Pastor Saleem Inayat, founder and chairman of Samuel Inayat Ministries, joined leaders of other minority religions in a May 9 meeting with Nawaz Sharif, and came away impressed with his devotion to protecting minority rights.
“There is going to be unbelievable positive change for the Christians,” Inayat said.

If so, the PMLN will have to overcome a history that Christians find worrisome. During its time in power in the 1990s, for example, the PMLN included the fundamentalist Islamic group Jamat-e-Islami in its coalition government.

“We have seen PMLN trying to bring Islamic laws in the country in its previous regimes,” said Atif Pagaan, director of Harmony Foundation in Pakistan. Because of its wide victory margin in May, the party will need only a handful of independent members of Parliament to form a government, but some Christians remain wary.

“The majority of Christians are not optimistic about Sharif’s forthcoming government because of their religious approach and close linkages with fundamentalist groups,” said Nadeem Anthony, a Christian lawyer and a member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Addressing PMLN party members May 27, Sharif said his first option in dealing with domestic terrorism is to talk with the Taliban. During the campaign season, Taliban forces attacked supporters of three more-liberal parties, and claimed responsibility for most of the resulting 1,300 fatalities. The PMLN said little about the violence.

The Taliban, in turn, have close connections with Islamic militant organisations, including Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, a banned terrorist organisation, which has been targeting minority-Muslim Ahmedis and Shias, as well as Christians. The SSP still operates in Punjab province under a new name, Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat, which reportedly has struck a bargain with Sharif’s party for some of the PMLN seats in the Punjab provincial government.

The PMLN’s history of presiding over Punjab is marked by several episodes of anti-Christian violence. The village of Shantinagar endured a massive onslaught from Islamic extremists in 1997. In 2009, seven Christians were burned alive in Gojra after accusations flew that Christians had mocked the Quran. Hundreds of Muslims attacked the Christian village of Khokarki in 2011 after a Christian man and his son were accused of blasphemy of Islam. Earlier this year, following the riots in Joseph Colony, an argument over music between some young Christian men and two Muslim clerics quickly engulfed the entire village, including an exchange of gunfire.

pakcomboAnd just last month, about 250 Christian families from a Christian village named Chak 31, in southern Punjab, fled their homes when Muslims from a neighboring town marched on Chak 31, angered over rumors that some Christians has insulted Islam.

Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws are widely criticised as being abused by Pakistani Muslims trying to settle scores and extort property, but also are popular with ordinary citizens. Nadeen Anthony said Sharif’s election is unlikely to provide Christians much hope the government will curb abuse of the laws.

“The Sharif brothers have had been also very strict on blasphemy laws, which is one of the major causes of Christians’ troubles in Pakistan, especially in the Punjab province,” he said.

Naveed Ghafoor, whose brother was falsely charged with blasphemy in 2009, doesn’t expect Sharif to change his position now.

“If Mr. Nawaz Sharif wanted some kind of changes in blasphemy law, and action against Islamic extremists, he would have made some moves when he was in power last two times,” Ghafoor said. “So it does not matter who comes to empowerment, because the situation of Christians (is) getting (more) difficult day by day.”

The centrist Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, third place in the parliamentary election and Pakistan’s fastest-growing party, made the blasphemy laws a part of their direct pitch to Christians.

“We approached them for support because we feel that they should have their right to worship; they should not be discriminated against,” a PTI spokesman said.

“The law has been abused as far as blasphemy is concerned; it has been used against them,” the spokesman said. The law “was there to protect minorities from abuse, but it has been turned around and used for personal vendettas, and it definitely needs to be modified now to suit the present day polarisation in our society.”

The PTI message appears to have struck a chord. After securing one seat in the national assembly in the previous election, the PTI won 27 in May, just behind the 31 seats held by the greatly diminished, outgoing Pakistan People’s Party.

The PTI earned enough support in the northwest province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to form a coalition provincial government. Their chief partner in the new government, however, is Jamaat-i-Islami, a conservative Islamic party that will control the provincial education and finance ministries.

Against the complex backdrop of parliamentary government, which can take on different formulations at the federal and provincial levels, some Christians are willing to give Sharif and the PMLN another opportunity to confront extremism.

“The religious-fanatics are responsible for the tense situation of Christians in Pakistan, and this is nothing to do with the government,” said Adgar Pace, director of Pakistan Christian Recording Ministries. “This is big challenge, if Mr. Nawaz Sharif does not take any practical step in favor of Christians to protect them from extremists, the situation could be worse. I personally like Nawaz Sharif, as a good leader with his foreign links that could lead (to a) favorable situation for the Christians.”

Pakistan: Calls for attacks on Christians emanate from Mosque loudspeakers

LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News)A Muslim political candidate suspected of murdering a Christian has instigated calls from mosque loudspeakers for attacks on Christians, whom he blames for his May 11 election loss.

Tensions were high in Punjab Province’s Okara district after provincial assembly seat candidate Mehr Abdul Sattar, sought by police in connection with a 2008 murder, on May 13 arranged for mosque calls for violence against Christian villages.

“Burn their homes to the ground … Punish them such that they forget Gojra and Joseph Colony,” blared village mosques in the district, according to Younas Iqbal, chairman of the Anjuman-e-Mazareen Punjab, a peasant movement fighting for land rights.

Iqbal told Morning Star News by phone that that when unofficial election results were announced on May 12, Sattar’s supporters ambushed a convoy of about 100 Christians on their way to congratulate his opponent on his victory.

“They destroyed two motorcycles and threw them in the canal, besides damaging a tractor,” Iqbal said. “We went to the Okara Saddar Police Station to register a case, but the police officials refused to move against Mehr.”

Recent religious furor has been easily stoked in Pakistan. In Lahore on March 9, about 3,000 Muslims attacked Christians in Joseph Colony, destroying 175 homes, after rumors spread of an alleged remark against Islam by a Christian (see Morning Star News, March 11).  In Gojra in 2009, eight Christians were burned alive, 100 houses looted and 50 homes set ablaze after a blasphemy accusation.

Sattar has targeted Christians in several villages, designated by number-letter combinations from British colonial times, particularly village 8/4-L, for voting against him, Iqbal said. Christians largely voted for Mian Yawar Zaman, also a Muslim, for a provincial assembly seat in the general election on May 11.

Iqbal said that early on May 13, Sattar’s men prevented the Christian principal of the Government Primary School, Shamoun Masih, men from entering the institution.

https://i1.wp.com/morningstarnews.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Demonstration-amid-Pakistani-elections-which-can-harbor-religious-conflict.jpg“They told Shamoun that since the Christians had voted against Mehr, he wouldn’t be allowed inside,” he said. “They also roughed him up, but there were no serious injuries. In 3/4-L village, Amjad Masih was harassed.”

Iqbal added that Sattar’s supporters had also forcibly occupied land of some Christians.

“The threat of violence in 8/4-L is most serious because of the tiny Christian population there,” Iqbal said of the village of roughly 600 Christians. “Sensing the gravity of the situation, we immediately informed Zaman, the legislator-elect, who pressed the police to deploy personnel in the village.”

Okara Police Chief Rao Jabbar told Morning Star News that officers would take all necessary measures to protect the Christian peasants.

“We have taken notice of the inciting speeches made by Mehr Abdul Sattar, and I have assured the Christians that we will initiate legal action against him,” Jabbar said. “Meantime, I’ve directed all police officers concerned to remain vigilant and ensure that there is no damage to life and property of the Christians.”

Police have been helpless in the face of Sattar, though, Iqbal said.

“Even though the district police chief has promised to protect the area’s Christians, the danger will always remain there,” he said.

Several cases have been registered against Mehr, but no action has been taken against him. In January this year, the police tried to arrest Mehr and his men in a murder case, but his supporters blocked three main highways for several hours, forcing the police to abandon action against him.”

Police sought Sattar in connection with the murder of Javed Masih, a Christian who had opposed Sattar in a 2008 election.

“The late Javed Masih used to tell the peasants to vote according to their conscience and not get intimidated by gangsters like Mehr,” Iqbal said. “His efforts bore fruit, and Mehr lost the general election in 2008. Unfortunately, Masih had to sacrifice his life for the cause, while several others were injured in an armed attack by Mehr’s men.”

In this month’s election, Iqbal likewise told Christians to vote for the person they thought best. Zaman belongs to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, which has emerged as the single largest party in national and Punjab assemblies.

“The humiliating defeat further stoked anger in Mehr, and he’s now bent upon punishing us,” he said, adding that Sattar has targeted no Muslims for opposing him.

“Our application against Mehr Abdul Sattar is still pending with the police, but it seems more Christian blood will be shed before he is brought to justice,” Iqbal said. “But this will not deter us from using our right to vote. We refuse to give in to the tyranny of criminals like Mehr.”

Besides village 8/4-L, the threatened Christian areas in provincial constituency PP-191 are village 10/4-L, with an estimated Christian population of 3,000; 11/4-L, where 2,000 Christians live; and 26/4-L, in which around 1,000 Christians are settled.

The peasant land movement that became the issue of contention for Sattar, arose more than 10 years ago in response to what Iqbal calls the Pakistan Army’s illegal occupation of 64,000 acres in some 10 districts of Punjab. Catholic Capuchins had relocated Christians to the area of central Punjab Province to provide dairy products to the British Army during World War II, and the British turned the land over to the Pakistan Army when the sub-continent was partitioned, Iqbal said.

“At the time of partition of the sub-continent, the Christians were not given the land rights which were promised to them by the Capuchin fathers,” he said. “Because of this, Christians are at the forefront of the peasants’ movement, which is facing the powerful Pakistan Army for their due right, as the Britons had handed over the lands to the Army after the partition.”

Sattar had initially worked with the peasant cause, he said.

“But then he began creating fissures in the movement, coaxing the Muslim members not to take directions from the Christian leadership,” Iqbal said. “He then left the movement and got involved in criminal activities, subsequently landing in politics. However, Mehr’s political career failed to take off because thousands of Christians of the area don’t vote for him.”

Please pray for our brothers and sisters in Pakistan, they are continually under persecution…they need our prayers!

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