Pakistani Christian man booked under blasphemy law

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

By Sheraz Khurram Khan
Special Correspondent for ASSIST News Service in Pakistan

SHEIKHUPURA, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- Pakistani Christians continue to bear the brunt of the country’s blasphemy laws as yet another Christian man has been booked for allegedly tearing and setting ablaze the pages of the Quran, the Muslim holy book.

Qaisar Mehmood, the complainant, charged Amanat Masih, 45, a resident of village of Nabi Pur Virkan in the district of Sheikhupura, with desecrating and setting on fire pages of the Quran as part of an occult practice to win over a lady named Shamim at the insistent of a Muslim man, Liaqat Ali.

A case was registered against Masih vide Police First Information Report (FIR) No. 277 on March 23, 2007, as an offence under section 295-B with the police station in the Factory Area of Sheikhupura.

Masih, a laborer, and his family earlier had lived through hard time when his son Waris, 26 was falsely implicated in a theft case in September 2005. Masih invited the “wrath” of influential feudals of his village as he decided not to approach them for getting his son released from the jail.

This only led to a surge in the scale of alleged hatred the landed influentials of the village had against him as Amanat would not bank on their help, unlike the other villagers living on the bottom rung of the society.

Amanat is said to have got his son released from the jail by the dint of his own efforts, prompting the village feudals to fabricate a blasphemy case against him in a bid to subdue him.

Most of the Christians living in grinding poverty often come as an easy prey to their Muslim opponents who only have to slap blasphemy charges on them to send them behind the bars.

As the nation was celebrating Pakistan Day on March 23, 2007 hundreds of Muslim villagers attacked Masih’s house. They allegedly subjected him to physical abuse amid choruses of indignation that he had committed blasphemy by allegedly tearing and torching the pages of the Quran.

“Even the police officials failed to strike a balance between their reason and emotions while investigating the blasphemy cases as well as whilst controlling the violent mobs”, the Director of ADAL Trust (Action Against Discriminatory Laws), Khalil Tahir Sandhu told ANS.

The Sharing Life Ministry Pakistan (SLMP) that launched a probe into this case quoted Masih’s wife Zohra Bibi, 43, as saying that the mob also robbed her of 50,000 Pakistan Rupees (US$833.33) which she had kept for the expenses likely to be incurred on her daughter’s wedding.

Zohra, a domestic servant has been living in a grip of fear since March 23. She warned the ministry’s investigating team against gleaning facts.

“A human rights organization that earlier visited me were threatened with consequences if they did not distance them from probing the case”, the SLMP quoted her as saying.

Masih’s children include Waris, 26, Delawer, 24, Baber, 22 and a daughter, Rukhsana, 20. Masih’s wife told the SLMP that she was concerned about the safety of her daughter under the current circumstances.

The ministry said in its news release that their findings revealed that Masih had terms with Liaqat and he also had a relationship with Shamim but alleged that the complainant had distorted the facts to implicate Masih in the blasphemy case.

The SLMP has long been campaigning for the provision of prayer rooms for Christian inmates in Pakistani jails. The writer is a freelance journalist based in Pakistan.