Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pakistani Christian Men ‘Falsely’ Accused of Blasphemy

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

By Jawad Mazhar
Special Correspondent for ANS, reporting from Pakistan
RAHWALI, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- Two young Pakistani Christians have been accused of blasphemy, resulting in threats by local Muslims to burn them alive.
The two men, Nasir (aged 20) and Hanif (aged 24) -- known to be best friends in the town of Rahwali, a suburb of Gujranwala -- were implicated in a what is alleged to be a false case of blasphemy under article 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, according to a report from CLASS (Center for Legal Aid Assistance Settlement) obtained by ANS.
Rev Sharif Allam, a local pastor serving in the Church of Pakistan in Gakhar, about 75 kilometers (an estimated 46 miles) from Lahore, and Mr. Joseph Francis, National Director of CLAAS, told ANS by telephone that both men have been “falsely implicated” in the blasphemy case and have “fled the area in fear of their lives.”
Rev Allam, who helps the Christian community in social, economic, political and legal affairs, said the matter is a “very sensitive issue in the area” and that the Muslim community was “ready to attack local Christians and burn them alive.”
According to Rev. Allam, there are only 30 Christian families living in Rahwali, among more than 300 Muslim residents. Most Christians there, he told ANS, are “poor and illiterate and are used to doing manual labor to meet the needs of their families.”
Nasir is known to have done different kinds of labor, including working with masons and collecting scrap from door-to-door and then selling it to scrap shops. He also worked as hawker, selling different items on the streets.
Hanif, who is also known as Chand, was reported to be a government servant, working for the Pakistan Army as a sweeper at the Rahwali Army Base, which he has been doing for the last eight years.
Nasir's father, William Masih, told CLAAS that the alleged incident of blasphemy took place on October 16, 2010, when Mohammad Baig, a factory night watchman, called Nasir and Hanif late at night and asked them to sell some books to a scrap dealer.
Apparently, Baig told Nasir that he would pay him for selling the books, weighing almost 80 kg. Nasir allegedly asked Hanif to help in taking the books to the scrap shop. In one night, they sold two bags of books to a scrap dealer and one bag to another dealer, and were paid for the books.
In the morning, when one of the scrap dealers saw that the books were actually Islamic Holy books, he came to Nasir, returning the books and demanding his money back. Nasir told him that he had spent money, but he would return it soon. As a result of this conversation, the scrap dealer became angry and started shouting, alleging that Nasir committed blasphemy and had insulted the Islamic/religious Holy books.
Nasir and Hanif then fled from the factory, but the owners and other local Muslims went to the police station to register a blasphemy case against Nasir and Hanif.
When local Muslims learned that Nasir and Hanif had left the area, they become furious and aggressive toward other Christians living in Rahwali.
At about 9:30 p.m. on the evening of October 18, 2010, Mohammad Zahir, a cleric from a local Mosque, along with about 50-60 young Muslims, started shouting at local Christians. Zahir told the Muslims to attack the Christians.

One of the local Christians informed the area police, who were on the scene immediately, and the angry Muslims left the area and did not attack local believers as was threatened.

Local believers were reported to be scared, and unable to sleep that night. Early in the morning of October 19, most of the Christian families fled the area to save the lives of their children and young girls from any harm.
Pastor Allam was informed about the incident and was asked to negotiate with police and the factory owners. He was able to speak to the police, the factory owners and other some influential leaders from the Muslim community, telling them that Nasir and Hanif were innocent and asking them to allow time for police to solve the matter.
The Muslim factory owners demanded that Nasir and Hanif should give an oath in the church about their innocence, and would then forgive them of all charges of blasphemy.
Pastor Sharif Allam immediately called Mr. Joseph Francis of CLASS and informed him about what was going on in the area.
Local Christians, led by Rev. Allam and Mr. Francis, gathered in the church, together with Muslims under the leadership of Mr. Faryad Sethi, who accused Nasir and Hanif of blasphemy. Pastor Allam then instructed all the believers about the oath they were making according to the Old and New Testaments.
ANS learned Mr. Joseph also addressed the public, giving some other examples of incidents of blasphemy, and also educating them about the importance of reconciliation, interfaith peace, love and harmony between the two communities.
Also present were Nasir and Hanif’s parents, who took an oath in the presence of those gathered, stating their sons were illiterate and innocent, had committed the offence unknowingly, and that the two young men were not aware that what they tried to sell were, in fact, some holy books.
Pastor Allam, Mr. Francis, Mr. Sethi and the young men's parents then went to police station to make written statements of compromise through legal procedures.

Jawad Mazhar is a Pakistani journalist specializing in writing about Christian persecution. He was born on November 28, 1976 at Sargodha's village Chak and raised in Sargodha, a city in Pakistan’s Punjab province. He earned his Bachelors Degree from Allama Iqbal Open University majoring in computer sciences and has taught at various educational institutes in his country. He is also involved with “Rays of Development,” an organization working for minority rights in Pakistan. He says, “My aim is to help eradicate Christian persecution through my writing as I bring the plight of these brave people under the spotlight of the whole world.

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