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(World Watch Monitor) Forty Pakistani Christians, who’ve been on trial for the murder of two men during a violent protest following Easter suicide attacks on two churches in Youhanabad – a majority-Christian area in Lahore – have been freed by the Lahore Anti-Terrorism Court. Two others, arrested with them, have already died, allegedly due to a lack of access to medical treatment.
The twin suicide bombings, on 15 March 2015, which killed 17 and injured another 80, were claimed by a splinter group of the Taliban, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar. The death toll would have been much higher if church volunteers on ‘security duty’ had not acted quickly to defend worshippers.
In riots that erupted following the bomb blasts, a mob killed two Muslim men whom they believed had been involved in the attacks. In the end 42 Christians went on trial for their murder, but two died in prison before 2018. The other 40 have been waiting for their appeal to be heard by the Lahore High Court. Meantime, the group have reached a financial settlement with the families of the two men, which under Pakistani law allows for all their acquittal.
The Anti-Terrorism Court announced the verdict on 29 January, acquitting all, including those who had died, after recording the statements of the victims’ families, who told the court that they had arrived at an agreement with the suspects and would have no objections over their acquittal.
A local reacted: “As we give thanks as Christians in Pakistan, one cannot get away from the brutal realities of what this means. The journey of physical, emotional and spiritual healing ahead is a long one. Pray for the right people to be positioned alongside them.
“We also reflect on the lives and deaths of the two [who died in prison]. If they had not, the release of the 40 would not have happened. Their deaths acted as catalysts and became an advocacy bridge for pushing for action and justice”.
In 2015, the Christians of Yohanabad had been angry in the immediate aftermath of the twin suicide attacks on their churches because in 2014, Pakistan’s Supreme Court had ordered the creation of a special police force to protect minority worship places – but this had been later scrapped. Punjab Human Rights and Minority Affairs Minister, Khalil Tahir Sandhu, had said “there was no need of raising another force for this purpose” because the protection of worship places “was quite satisfactory in the Punjab and reasonable security was being provided”.
Napoleon Qayyum, who lived 100 yards from one of the bombed churches, said police were not providing security to the church: “The local police station had been requested to provide a walk-through gate for security, but no such measure was put in place.”
A Catholic nun, Sister Arsene, who had reached one church 30 minutes after it had been bombed, tried to explain to the BBC why the subsequent anger had spilled out of control. “We’re treated as second class citizens. We’d like the government to give Christians our due place and due right. That’s why the angry youths reacted.”
At the time, there were conflicting reports about the two men set upon by the angry mob. Some reports said the two carried weapons, other reports said they had been firing them.
The two, who had been arrested and put into a police vehicle, were apparently forced out of the vehicle, beaten up and eventually burned alive on Ferozepur Road. Some social media reported they were suspects thought to have attacked the churches. Other reports said they were, separately, planning to attack another small church in Khaliqnagar, a Christian settlement next to Yahounabad.
However, some days later, they were finally identified as Muhammad Naeem, a local glasscutter, and Babar Nauman, a hosiery worker from Sargodha; it appeared that they had had nothing to do with the church attacks.
News of their murder filled the Pakistani media, somewhat overshadowing the deaths of the 17 Christians and injury to 80 more. As gory images of their lynching ran on TV and more details emerged, for many Pakistanis earlier sympathy with the Christian community slowly turned into animosity. One young Muslim commented on a Facebook post:
“Christians (Chuhras) have set on fire two Muslims today. I am only sad about their death.” (“Chuhra” is a pejorative term often used to describe Christians).
Easter 2015 suicide attacks repeated Easter 2016, but foiled in 2017
“The Tehrik-e-Taliban Jamaatul Ahrar accepts responsibility for the  attacks on the churches in Lahore,” its spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan later told reporters. “We promise that until an Islamic system is put into place in Pakistan, such attacks will continue. If Pakistan’s rulers think they can stop us, they can try.”
In March 2016, on Easter Sunday, the Pakistani Christian community experienced the deadliest terror attack in the history of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous, and most Christian, state when the same Jamaat-ul-Ahrar bombed a popular children’s park in Lahore as families thronged to enjoy their holiday. At least 76 died, many of them children, with over 300 injured.
(Christians make up just 2 per cent of overwhelmingly Muslim Pakistan. They are somewhat more prevalent in Lahore, which has about 10 million people, about 5 per cent of whom are Christian).
At Easter 2017, Pakistan’s security forces said they prevented a “major” terror attack on Christians in Lahore over the same weekend. The police caught the attackers in time, killing one suspect, Ali Tariq, and making two arrests during a Good Friday raid at the Punjab Housing Society in Lahore. Two suicide vests and four grenades were recovered from the scene.
Earlier, police had released a memo warning the city’s residents: “Reliable sources have informed us that two suicide bombers of an unidentified terrorist organisation have entered Lahore with the intention of carrying out attacks in churches or parks on 16/17 April. They have been equipped with suicide jackets and will target areas where the presence of Christians will be high.”
One of those arrested was a 20 year old woman, Naureen Leghari, who’d been to join Islamic State group in Syria. The medical student confessed to returning to Lahore with the intention of carrying out a suicide bombing against a church during Easter 2017, according to an interview broadcast on local television.
Police later released her, saying that she had undergone rehabilitation and that IS had deceived her.
Prosecutor offered 40 their freedom if they converted to Islam
In May 2017, it came to light that the Lahore deputy district public prosecutor Syed Anees Shah had told the 40 Christians that they would be freed if they converted to Islam. He was later found guilty of proselytism and suspended.
Shah was criticised for his alleged comment by Malik Muhammmad Ahmed Khan, then-special assistant to the chief minister of Punjab, who said the offer “is not just shameful but a heinous crime … We are all set to end the extremist mindset and steer the country to a tolerant and moderate society. Therefore, we cannot tolerate anyone in the government machinery with this mindset”.
Pakistan’s Senate Special Committee on Human Rights said almost two years ago that “terrorism charges against the [Christians] arrested should be dropped and they should be tried in civil courts”, as Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported.
At that time (May 2018), then-Senator Farhatullah Babar said: “[Three] years ago, two churches were targeted in Youhanabad, as a result of which [many] Christian citizens died. People in the area conducted protests to condemn the deaths of their fellow citizens – as is their right. These people were charged with terrorism and have been rotting in jail.”
In September, 2013, a suicide bomber had blown himself up outside a 130-year-old church in Peshawar after Sunday Mass, killing around 80.
The group’s acquittal came on the same day that the most well-known Pakistani Christian, Asia Bibi, published her biography (in French only, ‘Enfin Libre’ (Free at Long Last), written with French journalist Anne-Isabelle Tollet, author of two previous books with the woman who survived 9 years in prison on false charges of blasphemy.
“You know my story from the media, perhaps you have tried to put yourself in my place to understand what I suffered,” Asia Bibi was quoted saying in a press release announcing the new book. “But you are far from understanding my day to day existence in prison, or my new life, and that is why I tell you everything in this book.”
VOP Note: The public launch for the new book will happen on 1 February. Translation into other languages will soon be available as well.
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.
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.
HELP SAVE THE PERSECUTED
Voice of the Persecuted is on the ground in Thailand helping to care for Pakistani Christian asylum seekers who’ve fled persecution in Pakistan. They’re legally unable to work, children are not allowed to attend school and facing brutal hardship in a harsh country. Many are being denied by the UNHCR claiming it’s safe to return to Pakistan. see our report.
Together with your generous help, 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. Please consider our mission to help care for a family and bring much needed supplies and nutrition to those suffering in the notorious IDC.
Every day, we thank God that He is working through you to care for His children and to further His Kingdom! As you greatly bless others, may God continue to bless you. Thank you so much for your support. We couldn’t do it without you!
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To cause the most damage, twin bombings took place while the Youhanabad churches were filled for worship. A splinter group from the Tarik-i-Taliban, the Jamat- ul- Ahraa, who rejoined the Pakistan Taliban in August of last year, has claimed responsibility.
Reports claim the suicide bombers were stopped at the gates and detonated their explosives. It was shocking to the Christians in the community as this area has been relatively peaceful. Although NBC and Al-Jazeera report that 10 were killed we are hearing that 14 were killed and 75 were injured. The number is likely to rise.
Youhanabad is a suburb of Lahore, Pakistan. It is the largest majority Christian area in the city with about 200,000 inhabitants, though DAWN says it is at least 1 million.
LAHORE, Pakistan – Bombs outside two churches in the Pakistani city of Lahore killed 10 people and wounded more than 55 during Sunday services, officials said, and witnesses said quick action by a security guard prevented many more deaths. via Pakistan Church Bombings: Twin Blasts Kill 10, Wound 55 in Lahore – NBC News.com.
Christians have been a major target in Pakistan for years. Churches and Christian communities have been attacked, Christians have been pressured to convert and often accused or arrested on false charges. The government of Thailand is attempting to make things difficult for Pakistani Christians seeking asylum. It is believed the pressure from the government is an attempt to make them want to leave the country on their own. The UNHCR offers little help for the Pakistani Christian asylum seekers. They often feel abandoned and are losing hope.
The UNHCR has sorely lacked in it’s response for these refugees. Clearly ignoring their plight, and stepping away from International law, especially where children are concerned.
One quarter of the world is in chaos with Christians attacked in every corner of the middle east and even Africa. The UN response has been lacking. Images from this latest attack in Pakistan are disturbing. Please pray for the victims and their families. Pray for those fleeing, and those remaining.
Voice of the Persecuted is an interdenominational organization standing with and stepping up for the persecuted. Together with your generous support, we can reach the goal to alleviate their suffering. In darkness and desperation, let us serve in love, with open arms and giving hands to provide light and hope.
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!
LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – Police in Pakistan say a Christian couple tortured and slain this month over accusations that the wife desecrated the Koran were innocent, while relatives said politicians are trying to shield the killers from justice.
Urged to act from mosque loudspeakers, a frenzied mob on Nov. 4 tore the clothes off Shama and Shahzad Masih, struck them, broke their legs, dragged them behind a tractor and threw them into the burning furnace of a brick kiln – even though Shama was illiterate and could not have known even if koranic verses were among debris that she had burned.
Kasur District Police Capt. Jawad Qamar told Morning Star News that police had confirmed that Shama Masih was illiterate and had no idea of the contents of pages that she had burned.
“She was not guilty of blasphemy,” he said.
On Nov. 2 Shama Masih was cleaning her quarters in Chak 59 village near Kot Radha Kishan, Karur District, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) southwest of Lahore, when she found amulets of her late father-in-law, who had used them in the practice of black magic. The amulets may have contained koranic verses, and a Muslim co-worker, Muhammad Irfan, noticed the half-burnt papers andaccused the family of desecrating the Koran, relatives said.
Under Pakistan’s widely condemned blasphemy statutes, intent must be shown for a conviction of desecrating the Koran.
At a press conference in Islamabad on Monday (Nov. 16), family members said Islamists have offered them land and money as compensation for the murders in an attempt to stop them from prosecuting.
While police have reportedly arrested at least 50 of those named in a First Information Report (FIR), relatives of the couple said that influential Muslims of the area, including a Punjab Province lawmaker, were issuing threats in an attempt to force them to reach an agreement with the killers. Shahzad Masih’s brother, Shahbaz Masih, and his wife Parveen Masih demanded that the government provide them with protection, saying they had already informed the Kasur District police officer of the threats.
They also demanded the formation of a judicial commission to investigate the mob violence, adding that non-Muslim representatives should be included in the team.
“All we want is a fair investigation of the case,” said Shahbaz Masih, demanding that Justice Waheed Siddiqui, a retired Federal Shariat Court judge, be included in the judicial commission.
Among other demands, the deceased man’s family called for the commission and a Joint Investigation Team to make their reports publicly available immediately after completion. Masih also urged the Supreme Court to take suo moto notice and order an independent inquiry into the attack.
Lawmaker ‘Influencing Case’
The family’s concerns come amid reports that the provincial lawmaker of the area, Muhammad Anees Qureshi, was present at the crime scene when the throng of hundreds tortured and killed Shama Masih, 28 years old and five months pregnant, and 32-year-old Shahzad Masih. They are survived by four children, the oldest 7 years old.
Family sources said that Qureshi, a member of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government, was also making efforts to shield the primary suspect, Riaz Kamboh, from justice. Kamboh, a former municipal councillor, is also affiliated with the PML-N and holds considerable influence in the villages surrounding Chak 59 village. He is accused of throwing the couple into the furnace after pouring tractor diesel on their bodies.
“Qureshi arrived on the spot just when the lynchers had tortured the couple unconscious,” said a relative who asked to remain unnamed for security reasons. “They were not hurled into the furnace till then.”
The relative said Qureshi, a member of the Punjab Parliamentary Assembly, was trying to force the impoverished Christians into reaching an agreement in return for a large amount of money. Shahzad Masih was a bonded laborer who was working to repay a sum of money he had received, one of the reasons sources have said his employer locked him in an office at the kiln after a mob formed.
“Hordes and hordes of Muslims loaded on tractor trolleys arrived on the scene during his [Qureshi’s] presence, yet the lawmaker made no effort to rescue them,” the relative said.
Qureshi has requested the family not register a separate case against Kamboh, brick kiln owner Yousaf Gujjar and Imam Ghulam Hussain, among others, he said, adding that the demands were made through local administration and land revenue officials.
Qureshi denied that the couple was thrown into the furnace in his presence.
“Shama and Shahzad were already dead when I reached the spot,” the member of the Parliamentary Assembly said in his statement to police. “That’s why I couldn’t do anything for them.”
Morning Star News made repeated efforts to get Qureshi’s comment on accusations that he was influencing the relatives of Shahzad and Shama to reach an agreement with any of the murder suspects, but the lawmaker declined.
Punjab spokesman Zaeem Qadri told Morning Star News that the suspects would not be able to escape prosecution, because the state was the complainant in the case.
“This is why the government decided to become the complainant in this case, so that the accused are not able to coerce the poor families into reaching a compromise,” he said. “Pardoning the accused is not in the families’ hands now.”
Asked about the chances of convictions in the atrocity, especially when there is a precedent of all suspects in the Joseph Colony arson case last year walking free even when the state was the complainant in the case, the Punjab spokesman cut short the conversation, saying only, “This time it will be different.”
Qamar told Morning Star News that the area’s local police in-charge had sent a team to the site when he was informed of tensions, but that mobs were too large to be contained by just five men.
“It was Ashura [a Shia Muslim commemoration] day, and all district police was deployed on Shia procession routes and Shia places of worship for security, which is why it took time to gather a bigger contingent,” he said, adding that police were now trying their best to arrest all the remaining accused in the case.
Contrary to published reports, Qamar said police have arrested 43 of some 60 named suspects, of whom 39 were in jail, while four were to be produced in an anti-terrorism court today on completion of their police remand.
Tahir Ashrafi, a member of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), Pakistan’s top religious body, held police responsible for failing to act to protect the couple before the mob violence occurred.
“All culprits must be arrested and punished, including the cleric [who made the blasphemy accusation in a mosque] if he’s involved,” he said.
Rufus Solomon, a Christian politician from the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), said that it was a test case for the PML-N government, which has termed the allegation of blasphemy against Shama “false and baseless.”
“If the perpetrators of Gojra, Joseph Colony and the Rimsha Masih case had been punished, no one would have dared to mete out such barbarity on the poor Christian couple,” Solomon said.
Lahore, Pakistan (Agenzia Fides) – “The Christian, Sawan Masih was sentenced to death on false charges of blasphemy. But what happened to those who were found guilty? This question is still unanswered. Religious minorities in Pakistan would appreciate an appropriate response from the government. In a statement sent to Fides Agency by Fr. Emmanuel Yousaf, President of the “Justice and Peace” Commission of the Pakistani Bishops, commenting on the case of Sawan Masih, the 26-year-old Christian jailed for blasphemy. Fr. Yousaf notes that Pakistani politics has so far remained deaf to the appeals raised by minorities and civil society:
“Out of 342 members of the National Assembly, only two women parliamentarians of the opposition, Shazia Marri of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), and Shireen Mazari of Pakistan Tehreek-i- Insaf (PTI), have had the courage to protest against the unjust sentence. The two have rightly called the fact that more than 3,000 Muslims, who burned the Christian district of Lahore and have been released on bail, ‘a travesty of justice’, while Masih has been sentenced to death”.
The disagreement regarding Masih’s sentence was also expressed by Saleem Khursheed Khokhar, chairman of the Standing Committee on Minorities in the Pakistani province of Sindh and at the head of the local branch of the “All Pakistan Minorities Alliance”. Khokhar reports to Fides the “atrocities of radical Islamic militants who falsely involve Christian religious minorities in cases of blasphemy” and calls on the government to repeal the law.Khokhar calls on the European Union so that it “reconsiders services and trade relations with Pakistan”, stating that, as a form of pressure, “these should be subordinated on respect for human rights, religious freedom and the security of religious minorities”. Even in Europe, the initiatives are multiplying: the Association of Pakistani Christians in Italy involved some Italian MPs, who have also been active in the case of Asia Bibi, starting a petition to save Sawan Masih, to be sent to the e- mail address: email@example.com.
“The international community cannot remain silent in the face of the umpteenth injustice against the Christian minority in Pakistan”, said to Fides Professor Shahid Mobeen, Pakistani, professor at the Pontifical Lateran University.
Even Adan Farhaj, president of the Federation of Pakistani Christian Associations of Italy, in a message to Fides experts to sign an international petition on the web hoping that it “can serve to restore justice and equality”.
Lahore: Lead tells Voice of the Persecuted that on 9 October,2013 a blasphemy case FIR No.675/2013 under sections 295 A,295 B and 295 C PPC was registered at the Police Station Township by naming three Christians. The pre-arrest bail of Pastor Adnan , 26 was filled on October 26, 2013 in the court of Additional and Sessions Judge Khizar Hayat Khan and was fixed for final arguments on November 6, 2013, but the petitioned was withdrawn without arguing the case.
Third Blasphemy case:
On October 27, 2013 a third blasphemy case FIR No. 533/13 registered at Sadar Police Station,Wazirabad against two brothers Tariq Masih and Arif Masih under section 295 B PPC on the complaint of Muhammad Khuram. In which Arif Masih was arrested but Tariq Masih was in hiding but police and Islamic Extremists are on the hunt for Masih- accused of ‘Blasphemy’. The bail petition has been filed in which the next date of hearing is November 23, 2013.
Forgotten story of Asia Bibi death convicted under ‘Blasphemy’