Monday, August 10, 2009

In the Name of Blasphemy, Pakistani Christians Under Frequent Attack - 3


Ayub Masih when in prison facing a death sentence
Photo Courtesy:

A Timeline of Blasphemy-Based Attacks
on Christians of Pakistan

1986: Present Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan introduces blasphemy laws, the most stringent in the world. The parliament, in 2004, amends some of these laws, which carry mandatory death sentence for defaming Prophet Mohammad and life sentence for desecrating the Holy Quran. Since 1990, more than 500 persons (Muslims as well as non-Muslims) have been charged under these laws. We try to mention below some of the blasphemy-based accusations and court cases against Christians only.

1990 (December 7): Tahir Iqbal of Lahore, converted to Christianity from Islam, was accused of defaming Prophet Mohammad during the Muslim azaan (public call of prayer) and giving anti-Islamic education to children during his private coaching. The sessions judge in July 1991 denied him bail when he came to know of his conversion to Christianity, saying that it was a cognizable offence. On July 21, 1992, he was poisoned in the police custody before his defence lawyer could appear in the court for him.

1991 (December 10): Gul Masih of Faisalabad was charged for using sacrilegious words against Prophet Mohammad and his wives after Sajjad Hussain, the complainant, had a quarrel with him over the repair of a street water-tap. The complaint was: Gul Masih had mentioned to Sajjad Hussain that "he had read that Mohammad had 11 wives, including a minor." On November 2, 1992, the Sessions Court of Sargoda sentenced him to death. Years later he was acquitted but continued to receive death threats. He now lives in Germany on asylum.

1992 (January 6): Naimat Ahmar (43), a Christian teacher, was killed by Farooq Ahmad, a young member of a militant religious group, on the premises of the District Education Officer in Faisalabad on duty. Farooq said that he earned his way into heaven by killing Naimat for blaspheming Islam and Prophet Mohammad. No case was registered against the teacher nor was he tried by the court. He left behind a widow with four children.

1992: Bantu Masih (80) and Mukhtar Masih (50), arrested and accused of blasphemy, were killed in the Lahore police station. A fundamentalist Muslim stabbed Bantu eight times in front of the police and later he died of his wounds. Mukhtar Masih was tortured to death in police custody.

1993 (February): Anwar Masih, a Christian from Samundri, Punjab, was jailed when a Muslim shopkeeper complained, that during an argument over money, Masih had insulted the Prophet Mohammad. On April 24, 1998, he was released for time served.

1993 (May): Salamat Masih (12), Manzoor Masih (37) and Rehmat Masih (42) were charged for writing derogatory remarks against Prophet Mohammad on the mosque wall in Ratta Dhotran village of Gujranwala District, where they lived. All the three, being illiterate, did not know how to write.

1995 (July): Catherine Shaheen, a teacher in Lahore, was denied her salary on the grounds of blasphemy. Since then she has been hiding from fundamentalists because of threats on her life.

1996 (October 14): Ayub Masih (25), of Arifabad, Sahiwal District, was arrested for violation of Section 295(C) of the Pakistan Penal Code. His Muslim neighbour complained that Ayub him and his family to accept Christianity and recommended them to read Salman Rushdie's book Satanic Verses. On April 27, 1998, he was sentenced to death and imposed a fine of 100,000 rupees (about US $ 1,667) by the Sessions Court of Sahiwal. Catholic Bishop John Joseph of Faisalabad thought this death sentence and fine on Ayub were unjust. On May 6, 1998, Bishop went to Sahiwal Sessions Court premises and shot himself to death to protest against the death sentence. On July 24, 2001, the High Court bench at Multan heard the appeal among vocal death threats to the defence lawyer and the sitting judges if they did not give support to the death sentence. The appeals court affirmed the lower court's verdict of the death sentence and the fine. On August 16, 2002, the Supreme Court turned down the death penalty and fine and acquitted Ayub of the blasphemy charge.

1997 (October 19): Muslim Judge Arif Iqbal Bhatti was assassinated by the Muslim extremists in his Lahore office after he acquitted two Christians (Salamat Masih and Rehmat Masih) accused of blasphemy.

1998 (May 10): Ranjha Masih was arrested on charges of blasphemy when he participated in a protest rally against the country's blasphemy laws immediately after the funeral of Bishop John Joseph, who had committed suicide with a gun protesting the blasphemy laws. During the protest rally, a neon sign of a shop bearing a verse from the Quran fell down, probably due to pressure from the large crowd of the protest rally. On April 26, 2003, he was sentenced to life in prison and imposed a fine of 50,000 rupees.

1998 (May 31): Shafiq Masih, of Faisalabad, was charged with blasphemy after he had a dispute with a neighbour. The police saved him at the last moment when more than 1,000 angry Muslims went to his house and was about to lynch him. Although there are government instructions to investigate thoroughly any blasphemy charge before registering a case, the local police chief, to calm the sentiments of the violent mob, charged Shafiq Masih with blasphemy.

1998 (August 11): Nazir Masih was arrested at Patoki, south-east of Islamabad and north of Lahore, for blasphemy. He was charged under sections 298 and 298(A) for insulting the daughter of the Prophet Mohammad. These charges do not carry death penalty. He is being held at the cental jail in Sahiwal.

1999 (February): Amjad Masih (27) and Asif Masih (23) of Faisalabad have been arrested over a minor brawl. Both of them maintain that the police burned the Quran themselves when they refused to pay a bribe. Then they were accused of burning a copy of the Quran in the prison. They were sentenced under the blasphemy law 295b. The sentence was upheld by the Lahore High Court on August 7, 2003. On appeal to the Supreme Court, with help from Bishop John Joseph Shaheed Trust, they were released in August, 2006. They are still under constant threat to their life.

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