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Media Contact: William Stark, Regional Manager for South Asia RM-SAsia@persecution.org
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Christian Families Flee Homes Fearing Anti-Christian Violence
International Christian Concern
International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that a mentally disabled Christian from Pakistan's southern province of Sindh was beaten and charged with blasphemy after being accused of burning pages of a booklet carrying Quranic verses. Under Section 295 of Pakistan's Penal Code, commonly referred to as the blasphemy laws, insulting Islam, including desecrating the Quran, is illegal and can carry punishments as severe as life imprisonment or execution.
In the evening hours of June 4, a Christian man named Yaqoob Bashir, age 22, was accused of burning pages of a booklet carrying Quranic verses in the Lukoo Shade Mehmoodabad neighborhood of Mirpur Khas by Talib Hussain, a local Muslim cleric. When news of the blasphemy accusation spread, clerics and other extremists broke into Bashir's home, beat him, and took to the streets protesting against Christians.
When police were called to the protest, they arrested Bashir and took him to Mehmoodabad Police Station where the blasphemy accusation was officially registered (FIR#: 41/15) based on the complaint from Hussain. On June 5, Bashir appeared before a lower court in Mirpur Khas and was remanded to police custody pending further investigation.
Prior to this incident, Bashir was declared mentally disabled and reportedly received treatment at a metal health facility in Hyderabad. When Hussain heard about Bashir's condition, he claimed that Bashir was in need of healing from "unholy spirits" through Islamic healing and had been treating Bashir at his healing center for the past two months in Mirpur Khas. As part of Bashir's treatment, Hussein sent Bashir home with a booklet of Islamic teachings. This booklet was allegedly damaged by Bashir and led the blasphemy accusation.
Kasuar Bibi, Bashir's mother, said, "My son is innocent. He does not know the sensitivity of religious feelings or sacredness of the holy books. He did not burn the pages of the Islamic literature intentionally. It was just an accident due to the ash from his cigarette. He is mentally unstable and therefore should be forgiven."
As many as 25 to 30 Christian families have fled the Lukoo Shade Mehmoodabad area after a rumor spread that a mob would attack and burn Christian homes. Police have been stationed in Christian neighborhoods to maintain law and order.
This marks the second blasphemy accusation leveled against a Christian within the past two weeks. On May 24, Humayun Masih, a Christian drug addict in Lahore, was also charged with blasphemy for allegedly burning pages of a newspaper carrying Quranic verses.
According to Cecil S. Chaudhry, Executive Director of National Commission for Justice and Peace, "We are worried about the wave of hatred against Christians which has occurred after the church bombings and lynching of two Muslims in Youhanabad. The media has painted Christians as enemies of Islam and now [Christians] have to bear the results of this biased journalism. Poor Christians are 'soft target' for the religious extremists. This is a very alarming situation for the safety of Christians in Pakistan."
ICC's Regional Manager for South Asia, William Stark, said, "Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan continue to be terrorized by the widely abused blasphemy laws. In cases where a Christian is accused, it rarely matters if that individual actually committed the crime of blasphemy. For many extremists in Pakistan, the mere accusation of blasphemy is enough for that individual to be found guilty and punished, especially if the accused is a Christian. Reform is needed to ensure that innocent people are not accused and punished. Until that happens, vulnerable communities such as Christians and the mentally disabled will remain at risk of being unjustly punished under Pakistan's notorious blasphemy laws."
For interviews, contact William Stark, Regional Manager for South Asia: RM-SAsia@persecution.org
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