Pakistan: Doctor Jailed on 'Blasphemy' Charges

Monday, May 19, 2008

Police rescue Christian from angry mob.

ISTANBUL (Compass Direct News) -- Pakistani police have jailed a Christian doctor after "blasphemy" charges incited a mob attack on his home last week in Punjab province.

Officials said Dr. Robin Sardar is being held in Punjab’s Gujranwala Central Jail. His wife and six children have left their home in the town of Chak Chatta, 200 miles southeast of Islamabad.

“This is the house of a blasphemer,” reads a sign on the gates of Sardar’s now empty home where a crowd of angry villagers gathered on May 5, Union of Catholic Asia News (UCAN) reported. The group bore sticks and kerosene and chanted death threats against the doctor, family members told Sharing Life Ministries Pakistan (SLMP), a Christian prison ministry.

“A huge number of Muslims wearing green turbans surrounded our house, most of them armed with weapons and wooden sticks,” Sardar’s wife told SLMP. “They were shouting ‘The punishment of the blasphemer is death.’”

She said that police arrived at the house after several hours and used a ladder to climb the property wall and transport Sardar to safety.

District Coordination Officer Ibrar Mirza confirmed that police had rescued Sardar from an angry mob.

“When people are a bit incited, they can do anything,” Mirza said.

Local Christians said that the incident began when a Muslim vendor filed a blasphemy complaint with police on May 4 against the Christian doctor. Sardar and the vendor had reportedly clashed over whether the merchant could set up shop in front of the doctor’s clinic.

But a May 4 First Information Report (FIR) filed by the vendor, Muhammad Rafique, claimed that Sardar had insulted Islam’s prophet Muhammad during a friendly visit between the two men two days prior.

“[Sardar] began preaching about Christianity, saying bad words against the prophet Muhammad,” Rafique said in the written testimony given to police. “He also compared the prophet Muhammad’s beard with the beard of a Sikh.”

At this, Rafique and several friends came to blows with Sardar and attempted to force him to apologize, the FIR stated.

But Sardar denied having said anything against Muhammad.

In his written statement, Rafique called for the doctor to receive capital punishment and threatened that local Muslims would riot if police did not arrest the Christian.

Under article 295-c of Pakistan’s penal code, blasphemy against Muhammad merits death.

Now in hiding with relatives at an undisclosed location, Sardar’s wife Veenas said she could not return home for fear of new attacks. Neighbors have told her that members of local Islamist groups have threatened to kill Sardar if he is acquitted.  

“If Dr. Robin embraced Islam along with his family, he could come back,” neighbors told Sardar’s wife by telephone on May 7, according to the Lahore-based Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement.

Two other Christian doctors in the area expressed concern that anger over the blasphemy case might incite anger against Christians.

“Nowadays I shut down my clinic as it’s quite possible that angry Muslims set it alight,” Dr. Shamaun Mughal, Sardar’s nephew, told SLMP. “Even the Muslim children became highly fanatic, abusing Christians in the streets and calling Dr. Robin a dog and demanding to hang him to death.”

But local police downplayed the existence of any danger for Sardar’s family or other Christians in the area.

“We have plenty of Christian community in this district, and everyone is safe,” Mirza told Compass by telephone from Hafizabad.

Mirza said that the mob at Sardar’s home had been at most 50 people and called eyewitness accounts of a 1,000-strong crowd “exaggerated.”

Though he refused to comment on the legitimacy of the blasphemy charges against Sardar, Mirza said that blasphemy cases had at times been fabricated to target specific individuals.

Ten years prior, on May 6, 1998, Pakistani Catholic Bishop John Joseph committed suicide to protest both the use and abuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

Speaking from a memorial mass in Faisalabad, Father Aftab James Paul, director of the diocesan Commission for Interfaith Dialogue, said Sardar was accused because he was a well off Christian doctor.

“Basically, two types of Christians are accused in blasphemy cases, those who are too poor to defend themselves and those with high living standards,” he told UCAN. “Settling of personal scores and jealousy are the main driving forces behind both types.”

Copyright © 2008 Compass Direct News