Wake up Shabaz Sharif! Christians fearful and fleeing Punjab -by Junaid Qaiser

Violence against minorities is on the increase-and religious minority groups in Pakistan remain vulnerable due to the continued misuse and abuse of blasphemy laws. According to the, Annual Report on Religious Minorities in Pakistan, presented by the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, misuse of the blasphemy law continues all over the country: in 2009 some 112 registered cases involved, 57 Ahmadi, 47 Muslims and 8 Christians. Since 1987 (then the law came into force) 1,032 innocent people have been unjustly punished.  Direct episodes of religious intolerance are also on the rise. The report says:


“9 attacks on Christian churches and villages [in Punjab], some serious (in Gojra, Sialkot and Kasur) in which people were killed, burnt and others injured.”


 The report also deals with the question of property taken away from non Muslim groups (places of worship, temples, and cemeteries belonging to Christians or other religious communities). Another chapter deals with the erosion of religious freedom, which takes place in a situation of total lack of information among the public: minority groups denied permission to build places of worship; in 2008 there were 414 cases of forced conversion to Islam of Christians and other believers.
Religious minorities, including Christians, Hindis, Sikhs, Ahmadis and Shiites, say that the blasphemy laws, which were introduced by a Pakistani military dictator General Ziaul Haq, are widely misused against them. It is evident that in majority of cases the charges have mala fide intentions – such as personal enmity, religious rivalry, property disputes etc.  

“Blasphemy laws provide harsh sentences, including the death penalty, and injuring the ‘religious feelings’ of individual citizens is prohibited. Incidents in which police officials take bribes to file false blasphemy charges against Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, and occasionally Muslims continue to occur, with several dozen cases reported each year. No blasphemy convictions have withstood appeal to date, but the charges alone can lead to lengthy detentions, ill-treatment in custody, and persecution by religious extremists,” says Freedom House report Freedom in the World – Pakistan (2010) which was issued this month.


During the last few weeks, five more Christians and a Shia religious leader in Pakistan have faced charges under Pakistan’s discriminatory blasphemy laws, 295 B & C of Pakistan Penal Code.  On May 28, terrorists killed at least 93 members of the Ahmadi religious sect and injured around 100 others in attacks on two Ahmadi’s worship places during Friday prayer services in Lahore. On June 25, thousands of Muslim people of Yazman Tehsil, Southern Punjab, staged a demonstration against the police for not arresting an alleged Shia blasphemer who had allegedly committed blasphemy during his address in the village’s a congregation hall for Shia ritual ceremonies on May 27. The Shia Muslim residents of the village are frightened due to threats from a banned terrorist organization in the area. Bashir Haider, a Shia resident, told a local newspaper that the people of both sects had been living peacefully in the area for the last 50 years, and has called for an independent investigation into threats received by the Shia community. In another case, Pakistani Christian Rehmat Masih, 73, was charged with blasphemy, on June 19, 2010, a report was filed at the Jhumra police station. According to the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), the charge against Masih is clearly based on false allegations and linked to a land dispute between the accuser Hameed and the local Christian community, where about 25 impoverished Christians are a distinct in minority. Witnesses cited in the report filed by Hameed, Shahbaz Khalid and Afzaal Bashir, have had political differences with Masih, according to the NCJP.
Recently, in Warispura, a suburb of Faisalabad (Punjab) and a former Christian ghetto with some 100,000 residents, tensions were running high. Hundreds of militants joined a protest march, calling for the death of two Christian brothers accused of blasphemy. During the procession, the mob stoned a Catholic church. Thousands of Muslims took out a procession on the roads of Faisalabad from the afternoon till evening on July 11, 2010, demanding  the death of the two Christian brothers accused of blasphemy. As they went by Holy Rosary Catholic Church, they threw rocks and stones at the building.

In previous days, additional attacks were recorded in the predominantly Christian neighborhood. The protesters chanted slogans, raised weapons and announced to teach the lesson to the Christian community in Warispura. More than 400 protesters continued their protest for six hours in which they stoned the Catholic Church in Warispura and burnt tyres on the roads.  

On 10 July persons in another procession burnt tires on the streets; a call went up declaring that Christians would not be allowed to live in Warispura. At 1:00 am that night a procession of motorbikes took place, with riders allegedly harassing Christians who were leaving their homes with their belongings.

The protestors announced that a meeting would be held at Ghanta Chowk on 11 July, a central gathering place for such rallies. The loudspeakers from a number of mosques were used illegally to do so, and to incite violence against local Christians (in breach, as noted below, of Section 3 of the Loud Speaker Act 1965. The police began efforts to address the protestors on the evening of July 10, and that after a number of meetings it was agreed that the rallies and threats should stop. However protest gatherings continued on July 11, and united into a large meeting at noon, at which Muslim leaders from various religious political parties, among them Khatme-e-Nabowat, Jamiat Ulema-ePakistan and Namoos-e-Risalat reportedly reiterated death threats against the brothers, because the government had not sentenced them to death..

At the meeting it was announced that a set of gallows had been set up at the tower of Ghanta Ghar (in the centre of Faisalabad), in preparation for the hanging of blasphemous Christians.  Despite the presence of the police the protesters did not disburse but announced to continue their protest on July 11.The situation is still tense in Waris Pura and Muslim youth is roaming in the streets holding weapons and sticks.

Christian community is scared as they remember the Gojra incident in 2009, in which nine Christians were killed and burnt alive and more than 120 homes were completely burnt by a Muslim mob who wanted to give punishment to the Christian community in that area for alleged blasphemy charges of one Talib Masih.

The Asian Human Rights Commission is of the opinion that two Christian men are in imminent danger. The police officers involved have not followed the penal code, which only allows such charges to be made after an investigation by the superintendent of police. The blasphemy law was amended in 2004 specifically to avoid its abuse via baseless charges. Section 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPP) now states that no case of blasphemy can be filed without the investigation of the superintendent of police.

At the root of the crisis is a blasphemy accusation leveled at Rashid Emmanuel and his brother Sajid. The two were arrested on 2 July for allegedly writing insulting words against the prophet Muhammad (PBUH). They have rejected the accusation. According to reports, Rashid Emmanuel, 32, a pastor, on the evening of 2 July received a telephone call from a man who claimed to be from the La Salle School, a prominent Christian educational centre. He asked to meet Rashid about an urgent matter at Zilla Council chowk (crossroads) in Faisalabad.

When Rashid arrived later that evening he saw four persons standing in the dark; before ten uniformed police officers reportedly emerged and arrested him.  He was taken to the Civil Lines Police Station nearby and shown a photocopy of a four-page handwritten pamphlet that criticized Islam and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The pamphlet appeared to be signed by Rashid and his younger brother Sajid Emmanuel, and instructed the reader to contact them for further information. It featured their cell phone numbers and national identity card numbers.

A representative of the Christian community– Mr. Atif Jamil Pagan, the Chief of Pakistan Minorities Democratic Harmony Foundation – contacted the police and was told by the SHO that a sub inspector and an assistant superintendent had been chosen for the investigation; he allegedly acknowledged that they were not complying with section 295C of the PPC because they were under pressure from extremist Muslim groups in the community. The sub inspector, a Mohammad Hessian, later told Atif that the accused was being detained without evidence against him because the case was a sensitive one.

On July3, the police took Rashid to the Anti Terrorist Court (ATC) for police remand, where the case was correctly refused. Religious matters are no longer under the authority of the ATC, as maintained in clause 780 of the Anti Terrorist Act (ATA) 1997. Rashid was taken to a duty magistrate in the Civil Lines jurisdiction, who agreed to his two-day remand in police custody, despite the breach of procedure.
According to media reports, the accused remain in detention at the police station without adequate protection against mob violence.

There are strong fears that they could be attacked. The men have reported that co-detainees are also threatening them. Immediate action must be taken to remove them from danger, provide strong state protection, take up their case according to the laws and procedures of the country, and quell the rising tide of violence against the Christian community. A large number of Christians has fled Warispura, fearing violence. The risk of attacks against Christians and their property is very high.

The Christian community in Wasapura is extremely concerned that a similar attack could be planned around the anniversary of the Gojra violence, on 31 July. With such incidents already proven to be possible, it is imperative that these concerns are acted on, and the greatest efforts are taken by the administration to  protect these Pakistanis from potential attack, and reassure them of their security and their rights.  The situation on the ground is very uncertain for non-Muslims since sectors of the media appear free to propagate hatred against non-Muslims.

Meanwhile, the provincial government of Punjab is still maintaining close relations with militant groups and the judiciary is releasing militants. Sadly, Punjab government still in state of denial and it is this kind of muddled environment that suits extremist criminals and terror networks to further enhance their agenda. The chief minister of Punjab – Mian Shahbaz Sharif publicly requested the Taliban to desist from attacks in Punjab, claiming to espouse the same ideology and same background. In the month of March, Punjab’s Muddle headed Law Minister Rana Sanaullah participated in a public rally with the leaders of another banned terrorist organization in Jhang City; many terrorists came from that city to attack Christians in Gojra last year.


Mob sets church set on fire near Sialkot. Shame on the pro-Taliban government of Punjab. Shame on Sharif brothers


There seems to be a systematic, incessant series of attacks on minorities in the Punjab province currenlty ruled by PML-N. Is it a logical outcome of the historical affiliation of Nawaz Sharif with Osama bin Laden and other radical Islamists? Does the happening of this tragedy on the anniversary of 9/11 suggest that the old (often forgotten) alliance between Nawaz Sharif and Osama Bin Laden is still intact?
It may be noted that Nawaz Sharif’s brother, Shahbaz Sharif (Chief Minister of Punjab) was on that day in Sialkot, busy in talking with some women in a Ramadan Bazar while the church was being set on fire in a nearby village:
Christians targeted again!

We must take note of the fact that the Christians of Punjab have been attacked for the fourth time in two months for alleged desecration of the Holy Quran. Normally the media responds to frequency of occurrence by ignoring the topic, but in this case alarm must be raised before the terrorists virtually take over our lives.

A village in sub-district Sambrial in Sialkot has experienced the torching of a local church after clerics on mosque loudspeakers accused a Christian of causing a few pages of the Quran to fall into the drain. The holy pages were carried on the street by a child in the form of a “sipara”, which fell from her hand as a Christian boy allegedly brushed past her.

A mob soon gathered, beat up the Christians of the village, and burned the church. Christians, alarmed by the possibility of a mass murder of their co-religionists, took out a protest demonstration in Sialkot but were allegedly fired upon by the police. The protest wanted to point out that the siege of the village by a fanatic mob should be lifted to save people’s lives.

The Christian community in the area is understandably perturbed and is venting its anger on the Christian ministers at the provincial and federal levels. They want them to resign after mobs burned and killed in Gojra and Bahmani Wallah near Lahore. A similar fate for the Christians of Chichawatni was avoided by citizen committees this month.

When Pakistani scholars assert that Pakistan is in the grip of extremism, they are pointing to two locations where it is gestated and spread around: the madrassa and the mosque. Alas, both places are free of activists carrying the moderate message of the state. Equally sadly, the Christian community has lost all faith in the state and is demanding repeal of the Blasphemy Law. The government has weakly conceded only “procedural changes” while admitting that the mischief lies in the Law. (Daily Times)

Mob sets church set on fire near Sialkot
By Our Correspondent
Saturday, 12 Sep, 2009 (Dawn)
A Christian couple sit outside their destroyed home August 2, 2009, a day after the Christian community was attacked in Gojra town, located in Pakistan’s Punjab province. Another attack on the Christian community took place on Friday near Sialkot. – Reuters (File Photo)

SIALKOT: A mob protesting against alleged desecration of Holy Quran by some Christian youths torched a church in a village near Sambrial, about 30km from here, on Friday afternoon. The protesters also ransacked two houses adjacent to the church.

According to reports reaching here, 15-year-old Hina was going home after attending a Quran class in a mosque in her Jaithikey village when five people, identified as Fanish Maseeh, Saleem Maseeh, Qaisar Maseeh, Danish Maseeh and Nadeem Maseeh, allegedly snatched the holy book from her and threw it into a drain.

A large number of villagers armed with bricks, stones and sticks attacked the church and set it on fire.

Rescue 1122 personnel rushed to the place and extinguished the fire.

All markets in Sambrial and adjoining areas were closed and police patrolled the village to avert further violence.

Gujranwala Commissioner Hashim Tareen, acting DCO of Silakot Tariq Zaman, DPO Waqar Ahmad Chohan and local legislators visited the village and held talks with leaders of religious groups.

The DPO told reporters that the father of one of the accused had been detained and the people involved in the incident would be arrested soon.

Local Christian leaders condemned the burning of the church.

Emanuel K. Gill, Bishop Samuel Pervaiz and Javaid Silvestre told reporters that the situation was alarming and the government had failed to protect minorities and their places of worship. They demanded that those who attacked the church should be arrested.

Senior police officials claimed that the attackers were local people.

There are more than 100 houses of Muslims and 30 of Christians in the village. All the Christians have left the village to save their lives.

UCAN News Report

JAYTIKE, Pakistan (UCAN) — Hundreds of Muslims set ablaze a Protestant church Sept. 11 in this town of Punjab province after a Christian youth was accused of tearing the Qur’an.


Devastation in Gojra, Pakistan, in August, after Muslim extremists attacked Christian homes and churches

The attack took place after torn pages of the Muslim holy book were found in front of a Christian house. Mobs have blocked access to the town and raised slogans calling for the severe punishment of the “blasphemer.”

Tension built in the area and police have been trying to control the situation. Security forces have asked Christians to remain in their homes. Jaytike town has about 60 Christian homes.

Father Shehzada Khurram of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church is heading a team to the town.

According to initial information from Church sources, a love affair between a Christian youth and a local Muslim girl led to the assault. “The concerned Muslim family discovered the secret affair today and accused the Christian of tearing the Qur’an. We fear attacks on local Christians,” Francis Azad, a catechist in Jaytike told UCA News.

The latest anti Christian violence is the seventh such incident this year.

Just over a month ago, 10 Catholics were killed in rioting in the Punjab city of Gojra and in the nearby village of Korian. A Muslim mob vandalized and looted 113 Christian houses and damaged four Protestant churches in these areas on July 30 and Aug. 1.

Tensions arose after pages containing Islamic inscriptions were found in front of a Christian home in Korian. Muslims accused the family of blasphemy against Islam.

In another incident, suspected Muslim militants shot six Christians and injured seven more in Quetta city, Baluchistan on Aug. 28 after threats of “Convert to Islam or Die,” media reported.


Church dissatisfied with legal proceedings against rioters

HYDERABAD, Pakistan (UCAN) — Church leaders have expressed disappointment over the lack of progress in legal action against perpetrators of anti-Christian rioting in Punjab province.


Archbishop Lawrence J. Saldanha

“We are very much disappointed with the legal proceedings,” said Archbishop Lawrence J. Saldanha, head of the Catholic Church in Pakistan. “A month has passed since the massacre and yet none of the accused has been punished. I am afraid the culprits will go scot-free and the case will be put in cold storage.”

Christians in the Muslim-majority country are continuing to hold protest rallies and press conferences after 10 Catholics were killed in rioting in the Punjab city of Gojra and in the nearby village of Korian. A Muslim mob vandalized and looted 113 Christian houses and damaged four Protestant churches in these areas on July 30 and Aug. 1.

Tensions arose after pages containing Islamic inscriptions were found in front of a Christian home in Korian. Muslims accused the family of blasphemy against Islam.

Police have detained 103 Muslims for attacking the Christians. Hearings are taking place at a special anti-terrorism court in Faisalabad, which has turned down all bail applications to date.

On Aug. 29, Catholic and Protestant Churches in Hyderabad jointly organized an iftar (evening meal breaking Muslims’ daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan) program at St. Thomas Cathedral Church.

The event was attended by about 200 people including Muslim clerics, and Christian, Hindu and Bahai religious scholars.

In a seminar prior to the meal, entitled “Partners in Peace,” both Muslim and Christian speakers condemned the recent anti-Christian incidents and abuse of blasphemy laws.

Allama Mohammad Abbas Komeli, a Muslim cleric, condemned the violence. “Religion is a personal matter,” he told the audience. “Every person has a right to observe his religious doctrine or teachings. Nobody has the right to persecute another in the name of religion.”

Badar Soomro, a Muslim university professor and Human Rights Commission of Pakistan member suggested theological studies of all religions be included in the university syllabus. “This will promote interreligious dialogue,” he suggested.

According to Father John Murad, vicar general of Hyderabad diocese and one of the participants at the event, the Church is still waiting for justice. “The early development is very slow and none of the terrorists have been condemned. It is not a good sign and seems that the struggle against the blasphemy laws will be a long one,” he later told UCA News.

Blasphemy laws make an insult to the Qur’an an offense punishable by up to life imprisonment, while giving the death penalty for anyone convicted of insulting Prophet Muhammad.


Bishop Max John Rodrigues of
Hyderabad speaking at the seminar

According to data collected by the Catholic bishops’ National Commission for Justice and Peace, at least 964 persons were charged under these laws from 1986 to August 2009. They include 479 Muslims, 119 Christians, 340 Ahmadis (a sect that many Muslims consider heretical) and 14 Hindus. Church leaders have long charged the laws are being abused for personal gain and to harass non-Muslims.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had hinted at a review of the blasphemy laws during his Aug. 7 visit to a Christian colony in Gojra. “A committee… will discuss laws detrimental to religious harmony to sort out how they could be improved,” Gilani had said. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who accompanied the prime minister, also called the recent incidents a “test case.”

According to Archbishop Saldanha, “words alone” cannot guarantee the safety of Christians who constitute a tiny religious minority in the country.

“The Church initiated a signature campaign last month for the repeal of the blasphemy laws. We are expecting more than 200,000 signatures,” he said. “We shall keep asking the authorities. However, it seems the government is under pressure from religious conservatives. It is a difficult situation and only God can help us.”

Christians make up 1.6 percent of Pakistan’s 160 million people, 95 percent of whom are Muslims.




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