Pakistan faces continued violence against Christians and other minorities

religion | Jul 22, 2010 | By Martin Barillas

Two Pakistani Christian brothers, who were chained together, were gunned down by two suspected Muslim militant gunmen when they left the court under police custody after a trial hearing in Faisalabad City, Punjab province, on July 19.  Both were immediately taken to Allied Hospital in the city where they pronounced dead. A police officer, Mohammad Hussain, who was accompanying them was also seriously wounded.  Despite police presence, the killers easily escaped.  Aftab Alexander Mughal of the Minorities Concern of Pakistan strongly condemned the incident and demanding that the culprits should be arrested immediately.

In some areas, clashes between Christians and Muslims ensued and at least ten persons were injured.  A church was pelted by Muslim protestors with stones, causing extensive damage. The protestors also damaged some shops. Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd.  According to police sources, around 60 Muslims were arrested in connections with the clashes. An exchange of gunfire was also reported between the both communities.

Pastor Rashid Emmanuel, 32, and Sajid Emmanuel, 30, a graduate business student of Faisalabad, were arrested July 2 under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws’ section 295-C Pakistan Penal Code on charges of having written a pamphlet with blasphemous remarks about Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). Their funeral was held on July 20, early in the morning, so as to avoid further clashes between Christians and Muslims.

Right after the attack on Christian brothers, the local administration deployed a heavy contingent of police force to control the situation in the town. Tension remains hight. At the evening of July 19, announcements were made from mosques in Waris Pura demanding attacks on Christians.

The local administration is trying to handle the situation to reconcile the both communities and bring peace in the city. The church leaders are also asking the Christian community to remain calm.  According to a local newspapert, Regional Police Officer Aftab Cheema and Commissioner Tahir Hussain held a meeting with Catholic Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad. Both assured the Church leader that the culprits will soon be arrested.

Additionally, Inspector General of Police, Punjab, Tariq Saleem Dogar has two officers in Faisalabad, Muhammad Hanif and Ashiq Jutt, for negligence of duties and has ordered departmental proceedings against them.

On July 16, pronouncements against Christians issued from local mosques against Christians in the Waris Pura area of Faisalabad: a major Christian lneighbourhood in the city. Angry Muslims also distributed flyers calling for mob action against Christians.

Muslim mobs marched July 10-11 in the city demanding the death penalty for both alleged blasphemers. They stoned Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Waris Pura and burnt tires on the roads. Mobs also tried to burn down the area where the Emmanuel brothers’ house was located. The protesters chanted slogans, brandished weapons, and threatened to "teach a lesson" to the entire Christian community, according to Mughal of Minorities Concern.

The mob also threatened that if the brothers are not executed for allegedl blasphemy, according to Muslim custom, they will proceed to lynch them.

Local Christians say that the allegation against them was fabricated and no evidence to support the charges against them has emerged. The Minorities Concern of Pakistan learned that the hand written photo-copied pamphlet, which has so enraged area Muslims, was distributed by unknown persons, yet the names and telephone numbers of the two Christians, Rashid and Sajid, are listed on them.

Shahbaz Bhatti, the Pakistani federal minister for minority affairs of Pakistan, said the suspected men were falsely accused of blasphemy by people with a grudge against them.  Mehboob Sada, director Christian Study Centre Rawalpindi told Minorities Concern of Pakistan, "It is not possible that somebody can put his name and telephone number on any blasphemous material.”

Khurram Shahzad is alleged to be an activist of Tehrik-i-Hurmat-i-Rasool and is alleged to have ordered the arrest of the two brothers arrested.  The THR is a newly formed Islamic organization. Both brothers were arrested without a legitimate investigation, for blasphemy, Asian Human Rights Commission says.

Christians say that the murder of two Christian men is the result of the negligence of police and the local government authorities and biased attitude on the part of the Punjab government towards religious minorities. Many media reports say that the Punjab government of Pakistan Muslim League has reportedly closed connections with banned militant organizations. There are many members of the police forces who sympathize with Muslim extremists who encourage attacks on religious minorities such as Christians and Ahmadi Muslims, according to Minorities Concern.

After the murder of the alleged blasphemers, Christians throughout Pakistan fear an escalation of violence, just as was the case in Gojra one year ago where nine Christians were burnt alive, many were injured, and more than 120 Christian homes destroyed by a Muslim mob who were enraged about allegation that a Christian in a nearby village had defamed Islam.

According to National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), 35 Christians and Muslims have been killed extra-judicially in connection with allegations involving blasphemy since 1992. Moreover, since 1987 at least 1035 men and women including Muslims, Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus have been accused though none of the allegations sustained or sentence was held by the higher judiciary of the country.

This is not the first incident of its kind but shows the tendency where Christian localities have been targeted because of the alleged allegation of blasphemy and the Quran,  Muhammad and Islam. Following are the major occurrences in this regard: Shantinagar (1997), Sangla Hill (2005), Qasur, Korian, Gojra and Sialkot (2009).

False allegations were used to loot and burn properties belonging to Christians in, NCJP, a human rights body of Catholic Bishops Conference of Pakistan, reported.

The blasphemy laws were introduced by President Zia ul-Haq , a military dictator in the 1980s, to win the support of hard-line religious groups. The Section 295-C of Pakistan Penal Code carries the death penalty. The laws have been criticized by religious minorities and human rights organizations.

Christians are just 1.5 per cent of the total population of the county have been discriminated and persecuted because of their religion, according to Minorities Concern.

Father Emmanuel Yousaf and Peter Jacob, the Director and Executive Secretary of NCJP, a human rights body of Catholic Bishops Conference of Pakistan, said that the Christian community in Pakistan is deeply concerned over the apathy on part of the government about the abuse of blasphemy laws. They demanded an immediate action to deal with situation. The government should immediately conduct a thorough review of the blasphemy laws and repeal them on account of their known disastrous effects on the society.

The Asian Human Rights Commission demands that the government should also follow the amendment made in the blasphemy laws that no complaint for blasphemy can be filed without authorization of an officer of the rank of Superintendent of Police. Therefore the government should take action against those responsible police officers who, without proper investigations, filed the FIR for blasphemy against two Christian men at the pressure from some Muslim extremist groups.

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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